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7000 Days - Part I

Chapter Text

I sing of the Anger of the Goddess,
And its righteous wrath and devastation,
Borne on and of flesh and metal,
Which send many warriors home
And made a feast for The Wretched.

 

I: Her Extraordinary Upbringing

Once upon a time, there lived a tribe of witches in a garden. It was the only place where plants still grew. A woman among them was chosen by V8. The sacred hum vibrated through her, and lo- she was with child. Thus the way of Valhalla became flesh.

 

Prelude

You may have heard of the Age of Heroes. This was the Age of Villains. Warlord kings and their warriors roamed the land like gods, taking whatever they pleased. By now there wasn't much left to take, just scraps of better times, remnants of lost ages buried in the dust. The villains fought over these just the same.

Beyond the reaches of this chaos there lived a tribe of women. They were farmers, healers, workers, teachers, and warriors, but first and foremost they were mothers. They alone kept the mysteries of the Earth and could coax green plants from her dry, broken flesh by luck, knowledge, magic, or some combination of the three. The women protected their patch of land from the warlords, and for their skills and mystery, the people of the other tribes called them witches. They called themselves the Vuvalini, meaning Hooded Ones.

The women did nothing to dissuade these rumors. They kept their home and their ways secret from outsiders. Although any woman or child was welcome, they treated men with caution: it was so hard to tell the reliable from the false. Even so, they did not grant access to their secrets to all who lived with them. Only females and wrong-born males were initiated and only after years of preliminary training.

And so it was when Mary Jabassa found them. In a flash, all the dreams Mary had held for her daughter were gone before her birth. No more city apartment, no more cafe down the street, no more certainty - but she'd heard of these women and their plan to turn their backs on men's failing civilisation. She didn't need those things anymore. So she drove until she ran out of gas; then she walked until her legs would no longer carry her and her swollen belly, but they had carried her far enough. The Vuvalini gave her food and water and caught her child as the infant girl fell from her wet room to the dry outside, protesting all the way. They named her for the anger that The Goddess had unleashed upon the world: Furiosa.

For those girls who grew up in the tribe of mothers, the night of their initiation rite came their fourteenth spring equinox. Until then, they had learned practical skills like how to tend seeds and where to strike a man to stun and where to strike a man to kill, but they had not refined or tested those skills enough to earn their places among the inner circle of their tribe.

The year of Mary Jabassa’s daughter's initiation there were only two students from her clan: Furiosa and Valkyrie. They fasted all the day before and each took a personal tent and made camp in the desert. There they built a fire for warmth and light while they tied down their belongings in case of a sudden storm. They had a few moments to sit together by the fire before shutting themselves into their tents. On ordinary nights traveling women might sing songs together, maybe drink strong alcohol if they had been successful at trading, maybe entertain travelers of other tribes if they felt so inclined, but for the two initiates, this night was their first alone in the desert without any of their mothers. The desert night was full of dangers. So instead, the girls whispered awkwardly about everything other than the initiation and the the silence and bruises past initiates bore upon their return. Then they put out the fire and each withdrew to her own tent to meditate by her altar and wait for her visit from the priestess.

The night seemed silent. At first all Furiosa could hear was the sound of her own breathing. It was rough and short from chill at first. She lengthen and smoothed it as she had been taught. She was life an the desert. She did not disturb its stillness as there was no stillness to disturb. The stillness was like the darkness around her own tent; once a person's ears and mind were adjusted it wasn't quite so dense. Her breath, the stirring of the wind, Valkyrie's breathing a few meters away, the scurrying of a sand lizard hunting a beetle - these emerged from the silence like stars from a clearing night sky.

She wasn't startled when the priestess Fang opened her tent; she'd heard her coming from far away. The old woman crawled into the girl's tent like fog rolling into a valley. On her headdress she wore the dry and worn skull of a cow with her horns still attached. Her hair streamed from it down her back in thinning trails of white like a drying river. Her pale robes seemed to float around her in separate currents; they reached for the girl as pale moonlight shown behind and through them.

"Who waits in this tent?"

The girl rose to her knees and spoke. "I am the daughter of Mary Jabassa. I was named for the Anger of The Goddess by the women of Swaddle-Dog. They sent me here."

"I am the Slaying Mother; I chose who lives and who dies. I return the weak to the Earth so the strong my thrive. Drink that I may know to which of those tribes you belong." She passed a wine skin into the girl's hands.

The girl obeyed. The liquid burned her throat.

"Come."

The priestess backed out the way she had come, and the girl followed her out and into the cloudless night. Moonlight bathed them both and lit their way through the sands to the rocky outcropping to the north where the stones stood among the stars. There the priestess led the girl to a little cave made when an overhang became buried in a pile of stones. The girl's eyes were adjusting to the darkness. Little points of light began to appear on the sides of the stones. The little light they gave was enough to form a glow and cast fuzzy shadows with blurred edges.

"Bioluminescent fungi," said the old woman. "Even here life continuous. It's stubborn." She gestured at the back wall which was decorated with a mural painted directly on the stones. "Civilisations have risen and fallen since this mural last saw the light of day. It's older than you or me or this place they used to call Australia. There were people here, living, loving, leaving marks in the stone. Longer ago than anyone can remember, the Goddess guided someone's hands and mouth to paint this, and it survived countless centuries of storms and wars so you could come before it tonight. Now, what will your mark be? Will be be the painter or one in paintings? No, child, obscurity is not for you; there are too few of us left for that. Tell me, what do you see?"

The girl squinted in the darkness. "A person, I think."

"Don't tell me what you think you see; tell me what you actually see."

Slowly, the vague shapes became more distinct. Their edges still blurred like the shapes were in movement, but the orange and yellow colours began to reach out of the rock in passionate tendrils. In the center of the chaos, at the heart of the flaming surge, stood a single figure

"Yes, a person. She's waving her arm like she's greeting me. She's in the middle of a crowd. They're cheering... No, they're attacking her. She needs help. No, they're celebrating, dancing., kicking up sand. She's victorious. Now they're...

"Which is it?"

"It keeps changing," the girl protested.

The old woman groaned disapprovingly. "Perhaps your cards will yield a clearer picture of your future. She knelt beside the girl and around her set a circle of round cards, each facing down so their uniform rear decorations looked up. "These cards have crossed many years and wastelands to find their place before you. The Goddess moves my hand. As I am but one of her forms, I can only interpret them as I see them. Child of The Goddess, these cards are yours and yours alone. Only you will hear their true message."

Fang held a wrinkled, spotted hand over the first card. To the girl, her hand seemed not unlike the the desert, it's skin shifting and draping like sand forming dunes. With a single smooth motion, she turned over the first card. A colourful woman looked up from a menagerie of animals. "This card, Strength represents you at your core. This is who you are. This is your defining gift. Tie it to you so you can find it despite the most savage storm." Then she held her hand over the next card moving down the right side of the circle. "This card speaks of your soil, where you draw your nourishment, where you grow." She turned the card over so they both could see it. "I have seen this card many times. The Three of Cups references our community. Tie yourself to this as well, so that no matter where you wander, our soil may continue to nurture you." She placed her hand over the next card. "For each of us there is a lesson. By this card The Goddess hints at yours although you will never truly understand it until it is no longer yours to learn. For you..." She turned it over and smiled. "The Ten of Disks in Reverse: this is a good one for the rest of the world as well, 'The only way to survive each other is with each other.' It sounds nice, doesn't it? They always do in their cute little lines. We used to call them 'sound bytes,' like little bits of wisdom that fit in your mouth."

The cave spun as the woman continued, and Furiosa's attention drifted. She pressed her forehead against the cool stones to try and center herself. She clenched her eyes shut and then opened them again to find the points of light on the stones and blackness around them were blurring into a soupy grey. Her heart boomed in her chest and out, echoing on the cave walls, drowning out the old woman's voice. It became a steady drone with a raspy hum within it, like a thousand voices trying to hold a note, but her pulse carried through, sending ripples in all directions.

Smack! The points of light were now distinct from the blackness. Her cheek stung.

"You must stay awake. If you pass out, you've failed."

The girl nodded and breathed deeply as the old woman continued. More cards, another slap- now both cheeks stung. The woman's wrinkled hand turned over the last of the girl's cards. "

"The Fool and the Chariot are your future and your destiny respectively; if you remember nothing else, remember these." She gestured to them, and her hands seemed almost kind.

Perhaps she saw that the girl was flailing, that the potion in her body was about to complete its work. Perhaps the meaning of those cards disturbed her so deeply that she could not speak it despite her years of training. Perhaps it just wasn't time for the girl to know more. Whatever her reasons, Fang said nothing else about the girl's cards and their messages and instead unleashed the cruelty of her ancient hands in a third strike.

"Enough!" said Furiosa with her arm raised in a confident block.

The priestess narrowed her eyes and spat, "Run."

Run, the girl did - She stumbled to her feet and crashed through the mouth of the rock cave. She looked back to see the priestess resplendent in moonlight and rampaging after her. The girl tried to keep running, but her feet tangled beneath her. She fell to her knees and vomited the priestess' potion.

"Get up!" snarled the priestess turned monster as she kicked the girl in the stomach.

"I said enough!" the girl roared back, and she lunged at the women. Pale hair twisted between her fingers.

The priestess beast shook her off and loomed over her preparing to kick again when another woman emerged from the shadows.

"Back Death," the new arrival declared. "You've taken the child, oh Reaping Mother. What remains is mine."

"Take her if you wish to claim her." The white woman hissed as she slinked back towards the cave.

"I do." The new woman hoisted the initiate onto her shoulders and ululated in triumph as she turned her back on Fang and the cave.

She'd hardly walked a few paces before her burden started to protested. "Hey, Where are you taking me? I can walk you know?"

"I don't doubt it, but I'm not in charge here," the woman laughed. "I'm just following the ritual, and the ritual says I carry you home."

"What about my tent?" Furiosa protested.

"Don't worry about it. It might even beat us back."

"What?"

Her captor laughed heartily. "You didn't think any of this was real, did you? And by real I mean, unplanned. No, Fang did not go crazy on you."

"Who are you?" The girl craned her neck to try and get a look at the woman's face.

"Don't you recognize me?" the woman asked, her voice rich and warm in the crisp night air.

The woman was indeed familiar with her dark skin and eyes peering from behind her scarf. "K.T.?"

The woman's brown cheeks lifted towards her eyes. "I can neither confirm nor deny that I am who you say I am?"

"Huh?"

Shoulders shrugged beneath her. "It's just something people used to say... You aren't gonna throw up again, are you?"

"No... I don't think so."

"Well, let me know. That potion's nasty stuff. The ritual was designed for your generation, but all of us had to go through a version of it. I have nothing but respect for you girls. The ritual is tough, but hey, so's life."

"Do you have to carry me all the way back or do you have a bike?" The silent sands stretched before them with only the slightest breeze stirring the grains. The stones behind them seemed to be keeping watch, and the desert ahead dipped further into the Earth.

"It's all me, just like your birth mother before me. It's supposed to be symbolic of me birthing you into your adolescence or something. Just enjoy the ride for what it's worth," said K.T.

That was easier said then done. Every step jostled her head, and the most comfortable view (straight down) was the least interesting. She and Valkyrie had taken over an hour to walk between home and their little camp without anyone on their backs.

"Speaking of throwing up, can we switch to piggyback?"

"As long as you don't pass out. This is my first time as an Initiate Mother, and if I bring you back with your head cracked open, I'll probably get banned from ever being one again."

"Talk to me. I'll stay awake," Furiosa bargained. "I promise."

The woman obliged, and the view was certainly improved. Now the horizon reached ahead, softly growing at its edge from the first rays of sunlight stretching across the plains to the east. The glow reached for the darkness to the west like some sort of worm inching its way across the sands.

"Do you think Valkyrie passed?" Furiosa mused, intent on keeping her promise.

"I'll let you in on a little secret: we wouldn't have let you come out tonight if we weren't going to move you forward," said K.T. with a smile in her voice.

"But I'm thirteen. It's my time."

"Your fourteenth spring? Really, can you remember all fourteen of them?"

"No, of course not."

"How many do you remember, maybe ten at most? How many spring memories could be from the same year? Are you sure? I believe what we really said was, 'You'll be thirteen soon; you need to train for your initiation. The truth is, you turn thirteen the year we say you do."

"That's sneaky."

"It was my idea," K.T. gloated jokingly. "So the cards are called Tarot. We brought them with us when we came here. There were many different sets back then, but ours was made especially for women. We just used them for fun then, but as times got darker, we started paying more attention to what they had to say."

"They said I'm Strength," the girl said with pride. The others were weird with numbers and funny words. What's a chariot?"

"It's like a car from before cars were invented. Kings and queens would ride them into battle, but instead of engines they were powered by animals. Normally horses pulled them, but sometimes..." she held up a hand clenched like a claw, "they were pulled by others like lions or tigers... at least in stories."

"One of my cards was called 'The Fool.' Does that mean I'm stupid?"

"No more than the rest of us. In the cards, the Fool represents each of us, because none of us really know what we are doing. We're all experimenting, all the time. Everyone lives by trial and error. Like...how much do you know about how the Vuvalini started?"

"You were students who fled a city."

"That's true, but it's not all of the truth. You see, in times before, men were terrible to women. For thousands of years, they bought and sold us, they raped us, they treated us like property, and cast us aside when we were old and they were tired of us. As time passed, women decided to fight against this, not physically but academically and not all at once either. Gradually they started to change things, but it took a very long time. Before they could convince men that they were worthy of respect, they had to convince themselves. Eventually, we had partnerships with men; we worked with each other, and we had more rights and powers than we had at any other time we could remember, but things weren't perfect, not for us, and for other women around the world, and definitely not for the world itself.

"We told each other stories of a time before any of us could remember, a time when all lived in communion with the Earth under the guidance and leadership of a matriarchy, a society ruled by mothers. Did it ever really exist? No one knows, but when it became clear that our city would fall, and everyone else around us was planning to flee to a remaining city, we remembered those stories. We looked to those other cities, to Melbourne, to Canberra, and saw more of the same.

"So we took a chance. We twenty-five students, ten graduate assistants, and five professors decided to run the other way: into the desert. We looked at all the destruction around us and saw our best chance to start over, to recreate society as it should have been. Students from other universities joined us, and we formed the four clans we still have today.

"All the men in our lives certainly thought we were foolish, but some came with us an started the men's tribe. We all fumbled our way through survival, knitting together our separate strengths. Some of us had been hikers and climbers before; some always had a knack for gardening, but we were all students. None of us really knew hunger or thirst. We'd never had to kill strangers to save ourselves. Foolish or not, by The Goddess, we managed by trial and error, and we are still here. I think the reason why we fared better than the other tribes around us was because we had a head start. When everyone else was clinging to the old ways that were clearly failing, we just let them go.

"I remember when I was a kid, we had these things called sandboxes; they were exactly what they sound like, big wooden boxes, open at the top and full of sand. They were big enough for kids to climb in and play I them. We would mix the sand with a little bit of water to make it stick together, and we would pack into into shapes, like how we make altars to the Goddess now. We weren't limited to mounds though; we would make buildings, landscapes, even cities and then smash them with our bar feet and start all over again. You see, we Vuvalini, we saw the desert like a big sandbox - instead of despair, we saw possibilities. With sand and a little bit of water, you can build anything." K.T. tilted her head to catch Furiosa's eyes. "Foolish, no?" she asked with a smirk.

Ahead the first sad shrub appeared, marking the way home. Beyond it there were a few more, looking more like dark spots than anything of real importance, but there were still more, just out of sight, and as the desert dipped further down they grew stronger and more plentiful until stubborn fruit and nut trees joined them. There, the Vuvalini guards were visibly posted so anyone who happened to make it this far without drawing the attention of the scouts would think these first few trees were the women's fabled bounty, but past the tents and the more permanent dwellings, past every defense the Vuvalini could manage, the ground dipped even lower. It dipped so far that it skimmed the top of a network of underground rivers. Sand still covered the river most of the year, but the sand was often moist, and during the wet season, water seeped through it to face the sky.

Chapter Text

Years passed, and the child of V8 grew in strength and knowledge, but she remained ignorant of her true nature.

The Night Before

On the eve of Imbolc, the Vuvalini caravanned to the highest point in their territory. There, they set their torches alight and waited for the men's tribe to return from their travels. When their lookouts first spotted the men's lead camel and rider, they would hum. As more and more women saw the men coming, they would add their voices so the hum grew and moved among them like blood through flesh. Once the men could hear the hum, they gave it rhythm by beating their drums. They women would sway to the rhythm and called out songs and prayers.

"The God has come to blacken the soil."

"The God has come to waken the seeds."

"The God has come to make mothers of daughters."

"Together we will bring life to the land."

"Together we will dress her in green."

When the two groups met, women erupted in ululations. The men revved their engines and reared their camels. The women did the same. In one massive caravan the women led the men down the rocks to the hidden river bed. All danced and sang as they went. In the place that would soon be green, they hummed and beat their drums and chests, then let the sounds lift their voices and move their bodies in celebration of the newly black soil. Planting would wait. Tonight was a night for revelry.

This year, like those before and after, the apprentices and uninitiated stayed behind to guard the valuable fertile lands while the Vuvalini went out to meet the men. For the apprentices, it wasn't just one of their first responsibilities with repercussions for their entire tribe, but it was also a form of leadership training. They were charged with commanding the uninitiated, both the children and older new comers who had crossed the deserts following stories of warrior women.

One such newcomer was a young woman named Pala. The leaders were conflicted on what to do with her. They had initiated many women her age in the past, but that was when their numbers were smaller and they were only beginning to establish their culture. Since then women still reached them from time to time, hardy survivors from falling cities bearing news of the dying world.

Pala was different. She had been the daughter of a salt trader, and she had come a year or so earlier in hopes of escaping an arranged marriage. She was almost twenty years old, quiet and gentle, with light eyes and soft hands. Apparently all the salt people asked of their women was the ability to cook and clean, and Pala's skills in those areas were poor as well.

Even reaching a skill level where passing initiation would be possible would take her at least another year. The women had no intention of turning her away, but they couldn't exactly treat her as a child. The ordinary curriculum was to start with learning discipline, patience, and control of one's impulses. Next came the skills of life and death: caring for plants and animals, fighting, healing, surviving in the desert. She was hardly ready for the apprenticeship stage when training focused on specialisation, adaptation, and exploration. Trying these without a strong foundation in basic skills would have left her like a tree with no roots, doomed to fall over at the slightest gust.

In reality, she was more a cloud then a tree, more likely to float away than blow over. She tended to drift off into daydreams during her lessons and therefore became was just about everyone's least favorite student. Except Furiosa- she found Pala to be fascinating, and the two developed a close friendship.

That Imbolc Eve, Valkyrie led the outer ring of lookouts while Furiosa led the core and directed the uninitiated in preparing for the celebration feasts. There was water to be hauled and purified, stored crops to be unloaded and rehydrated, and the usual seasonal chores to continue. Despite the seed sorting, channel digging, and everything else that needed to be done, one fact remained: they were the last line of defense between the fertile lowlands and all the ruin around them.

Furiosa was tending the central fire when Pala sat down behind her, watching her in her usual way. Pala popped a dried fig in her mouth and asked, "Do you want one?"

"I'll wait for the feast. I've been thinking about that camel all day. I think I can wait another couple of hours."

"These are my favorites. I think I like them better dried even then I do fresh," Pala gushed as she ate another.

"I'll try one if you set up that filter," Furiosa bargained. "Now that it's getting dark, we need to shift to fireside chores."

"Yes, ma'am," teased Pala. She smiled as she pressed a fig into Furiosa's palm.

It was tasty, sweet, sticky, and the perfect reminder of just how hungry she was. The feast couldn't come soon enough. She wondered how long the wait would be. The last few years everyone came home not too terribly long after sunset. She assumed that the men waited somewhere close by so they could be sure their approach would happen in the dark. Next year she would finally be old enough to join the Vuvalini at the lookout point. She imagined herself catching the first glimpse of the lead lantern in the blackness, the surge of adrenaline in her chest. In a way, she felt like that about adulthood, like she could see the first glimmer of it in the distance, and it was coming for her no matter what she did. She could either fear it and try to hide from its inevitability or she could sing for it and chant for it. She would sing for it; she couldn't imagine not. She wanted it, not like how she wanted to sink her teeth into the camel feast. That came every year; this would be something unique, something transformative. She couldn't exactly put her finger on why she wanted it so much, but she did know that even with all her increasing responsibilities, she still felt like a child.

"What are you thinking about?" Pala asked as she started pouring water into her filter.

"My Coming of Age. It's coming up soon, and I need to chose a tattoo."

"Is that what you do here?"

Furiosa nodded. "The initiation ceremony was about the Goddess giving clues to her plans for me and who she wants me to be. Coming of Age is about me making myself into who I want me to be." She paused as she started a filter of her own. "What's it like where you come from?"

"We get married,"said Pala matter-of-factly. A girl becomes a woman when a man pays her father for her. Sure, there are rituals, special outfits, attention, but there's nothing about what the girl wants. Who she wants to be isn't nearly as important as what she will be: a wife, a mother..."

"A vagina and a womb," Furiosa finished for her.

"It's not all bad. If her father makes a good match for her, she'll be well cared for; she'll have food and safety the rest of her life."

"So is that why you came here, because your father didn't find you a good match?"

"He wasn't a terrible match; I just wanted something more. I wanted to have a choice in the matter."

"I guess that makes sense," mused Furiosa. "I don't think I could ever be all right with being sold, being owned, but I guess if I could convince myself that I chose it...but really, marriage? How is that still relevant? In the old days it was about government benefits and all sorts of other legal issues that don't exist anymore. Take away those things and put a price on a person, what do you have left?"

"What about love?" Pala asked. "Isn't that what's left?"

"No one pays for your love," Furiosa scoffed. "Your love is yours; you either give it or you don't."

"The payment isn't for your love, it's for your labour. It's to compensate your parents for you not being around to help anymore."

"You lose your family?" Furiosa asked in horror.

"You get a new one; now you have two." Pala saw that she wasn't making much progress in getting her to understand. "Look, call it naive or whatever you want, but I still think it's possible that I could find someone I loved enough to want to give myself to, and that person would love me enough to want to take care of me for the rest of my life. That commitment, that binding promise, that's what marriage is about and why it's as relevant now as ever. I don't want to give myself away to just anyone, but If I ever find the right someone, I mean, does that really sound all that bad to you?"

"My mothers love me. I love them. We take care of each other. If we want to love someone else, we can. We don't own each other. Anyone who says he owns you can't also love you, maybe like you can love a bike or a scarf, but not like a person."

"You're just repeating what you've been told."

"So are you; the only difference is that I've been told the truth." Furiosa folded her arms over her chest and turned away to check on the water filter.

"You don't need to be so angry about it. It's all theoretical anyway. You've never been in love. I know you love your mothers, but being in love is different. It's indescribable."

"And you have?"

"Yes, I have.". Pala held a pot of water over the fire. "Trying to describe it to you would be like this water trying to tell the river what it's like to be boiled."

"Water evaporates all the time," Furiosa protested. "That's the same thing."

Pala said nothing. She simply held the pot over the fire until little bubbles appeared and started to dance. They rose to the surface and then opened up, turning themselves inside out in to glorious steam. Pala leaned her face forward so it brushed against her skin before disappearing into the night.

"Not exactly," she said almost smugly.

"That one's done. Don't waste it," Furiosa ordered.

The men and women paraded in a few hours later. The sounds of their jubilation proceeded them so when their torches finally appeared in the dark, they only showed the outer ring of guards how far away they still were. Even so, the excitement was palpable. The camp hummed with conversation as the apprentices fantasised about the upcoming feast and the gifts the men's tribe would bring them and that maybe tonight might be the night their crushes smiled back at them. Of course their sounds of gladness were soon swallowed up, and they joined in the songs of their mothers. If land could be fed off of joy, they would have never had famine again.

Famine was the furthest thing from their mind that night. Instead the selected camel was slaughtered, his blood collected and his meat set to cook for the morning meal. In the meantime there were nuts and dried fruit baked into barley and emmer breads. There were squares of millet candied with fig and date juices. Camel milk and blood were mixed to make a rich soup served with sliced root vegetables. The men brought fruit wines and brandies made from the winemaking tribes, jerkies and skins from their own hunting, and quandong nuts from the New Kaurna and the Anangu tribes. They revealed treasures from the old world last: ammunition, tools, tarps, clothing that stretched and moved with the wearer, bags and belts with many pockets, boots, and any other small wonders of lost civilizations.

After gifts and gossip were exchanged, food and wine drunk, the women and men took their chosen lovers to their mudbrick houses. The apprentices stayed behind to tend the camel and steal bites of his fat as compensation for their trouble while the scents and sounds of adult pleasures taunted them.

Pala waited until the central fire was less crowded to approach again. "I'm sorry I made you angry. I forget that you're younger than I am. I shouldn't rub it in your face like that.

The younger girl turned to face her and extended her hand with a peace offering. "Here, now it's your turn to try my favorite."

Pala accepted it with a smile. She turned the girl's hand over in hers as she tried to find the best way to transfer the glistening gift to her mouth.

Furiosa smiled back. "Go ahead."

Pala ate daintily as always. Her lips barely touched the girl's skin, just brushing against it enough to take what she needed. She smiled at its gooey texture: pure, decadent fat. She still held the Furiosa's hand so close that her breath awoke the little hair on its back when she spoke. "I can tell why you like it."

"Why is that?"

Pala spoke with full, flushed, glistening mouth. "It tastes like everything you need but aren't supposed to have..." She licked her lips. "Except on special occasions."

"Oh, I would eat it every day if I could."

Pala leaned in closer. "That's the point. It's the wanting that makes it worth wanting." She let her words waft over them like smoke from the fire. Then she gave Furiosa's hand a slight squeeze as if to remind the girl that she still held it. "Let's go for a walk.

"A walk?" Furiosa looked around, letting her eyes wander over the heads of her fellow apprentices. They were all engaged in their own conversations and tasks. Firelight danced over their faces, casting shadows over their eyes and mouths so they looked more like spirits than teenage girls. It was only a matter of time before they snuck off to play at adulthood like every other year. They probably assumed that she would cover for them just like every other year.

"An adventure," Pala probed.

"Alright. It looks like Valkyrie has everything covered."

"She always does. Between the two of you... You keep this whole place running."

"Stop trying to flatter me. I already said I would come with you."'

Pala gave her her arm a tug as she stood up. "Then why haven't we left yet?"

Soft drumming carried from the settlement, across the wheat fields and vineyards to the edge of the sand. It started as dry, powdery soil where the irrigation didn't reach, but then it started piling up as the scrub took the last of the water and then drowned in gently rising dunes. Each fell into shadow as another set lifted behind to catch the last of the moonlight, and another and another, on and on, giving form to the invisible pulse of the desert. The last of the Vuvalini's drumming finally faded out there where the dunes started their rhythm, and as Furiosa stood with Pala beside her, it occurred to her that the rhythm was the same, just changing forms, like The Goddess sliding between incarnations.

"What's on your mind?" Pala asked.

"Oh, I couldn't explain it if I tried," Furiosa mused.

"Go on, now you have to try."

"Can you still hear the drumming?"

Pala shook her head. She then sat down on the top of a dune and motioned for Furiosa to sit beside her. The sand relaxed beneath them, receiving them like old friends.

"If you listen closely, maybe face home, it's still going on, but right here, where the dunes start is where I lose it. I have to wonder if it's really all the same thing, like the son waves of the drumbeats take the form of and dunes at this point. The same waves, just different..." she scrunched her face with frustration, "connected."

"Been sitting a bit close to the fire?" Pala laughed warmly.

"I warned you, remember."

"I guess it's no crazier than everything else I've heard around here... no crazier than anything I've said."

Furiosa met her gaze, soft grey eyes in the last of the moonlight. Then they sunk into shadow when she dipped her chin. Beyond her the first light of morning began to crawl up the horizon like water seeping up cloth. Pala grasped her hands with a little, playful tug so the two were facing each other. With the sun rising in the east and the moon setting in the west, they formed their own primitive compass.

"What about God?" asked Pala. "Where does he fit into all of this?"

Furiosa closed her eyes to try and feel the desert pulse. "The God is movement, energy. There can be no life without The God. That's the whole point of the festival tonight." She opened her eyes again to try and catchPala's gaze, "The God makes water boil."

Pala still clasped her hands. She let her eyes linger on them and then lift as she spoke. "Did The God make The Goddess?"

"No, they both created themselves out of The Void. Neither can exist without the other."

"That's a lovely thought," said Pala, her voice lilting like a sand dune. "You always have such lovely thoughts. You're whole mythology is just beautiful, and when you talk about it, you just beam. I wish I could be as good as you at talking about this. You're so sure and so..."

An arm reached from the wrong direction. A hand covered Furiosa's mouth as a body pressed against hers.

"Misguided."

Chapter Text

Then when she had been prepared, V8 set her on a journey of trials and troubles. Her time in the garden had made her strong, but there was much of the world and suffering she would need to learn to be able to fulfill the Way of Valhalla.

The 1st Day

Part 1

Does a mother know when her child is in danger? Does something stir her soul to action? Mary Jabassa only felt a twinge of curiosity, that led her to the central fire to find her daughter. If she had taken a lover as she had at other festivals, she might not have even noticed it, but since she was alone with her thoughts, she followed it. When she didn't find her daughter at the fire, her curiosity became a worry. She wondered that she was too worried, that she would just find her daughter exploring the body of some girl or boy because that's what being a teenager was all about. She also worried that she wasn't worried enough because that's what being a mother was all about.

Maybe she should have taken a motorcycle instead of a manual bike, gunned her engine so everyone could have heard her leaving. Instead she slung her hunting shotgun over her shoulder. She walked her bike through the vineyards in the empty spaces between the rows and then rode to their edge. There she heard the careless sounds of a private conversation to the north and east. She knew the voices instantly and was about to turn back, her worry calmed, but then she heard an engine to the north. It sounded like it was coming south, but then it too went quiet, too quiet. The voices started again, and she rode between the dunes until the voices became quiet as well. When she heard a struggle, she parked her bike and crept up a dune towards the sounds.

"Your friend has the right idea- just calm down and get into the ute," snarled a man through his hand holding his nose and mouth as blood flowed in dark streams down his neck. "We don't want to hurt you," he said to the tangle of bodies on the ground. A utility vehicle was parked behind them.

Mary tried to count the men - four, plus the one talking. She could take him out easily, but the others were too close to her daughter; she couldn't risk it. Taking him out would give away her position anyway, and change all the variables.

Mary Jabassa took the first clear shot that presented itself. The bloody mouthed man wasn't just bleeding from his mouth anymore. He wasn't a man anymore either, just meat and marrow.

The others scrambled to their feet and drew their own weapons. They scrambled towards the sound of the gunfire. Furiosa appeared where they used to be. It seemed to take her a moment to realize there wasn't anyone on top of her anymore. She looked scraped and bruised, her clothing torn, but she otherwise seemed unharmed. She held her arm up to guard herself and swung her leg back to bring herself to standing.

"Run!" Shouted Mary as she prepared for her next shot.

Furiosa turned to bolt. She dug her heel in the sand to launch herself.

One of the men, with a pale beard, turned his pistol on her. "I wouldn't do that." He cocked it with a flourish.

Mary cursed under her breath: her shot wasn't clear. His shot was, but would he take it? She tried to convince herself that for someone like him, a seventeen-year-old girl was too valuable to shoot, but she couldn't get past the cold and simple fact that someone was pointing a gun at her daughter. She took the shot. Her slug landed harmlessly in the sand.

It was enough. The man turned to find shooter and gave Furiosa just enough time to start zigging and zagging away from him. The others were almost to Mary by now. They had to see her body pressed against the sand. She tried to make herself small while she reloaded. Not small enough -the men lunged at Mary. They trapped at her limbs, her hair, and her clothing with their free hands and swung their pistols at her. She fought them off as best she could. She grunted, snarled and wailed, hitting one, then another, with the butt of her weapon until they stumbled back. The third man raised his pistol. She feared she had miscalculated, but he aimed past her and shot out the front tyre of her bike.

The man with the pale beard fired his own weapon. The bullet carved a path through the side of Furiosa's right shoulder. She kept running, her utility little knife still in her hand. Blood soaked the edges of her torn sleeve and trickled down her arm.

"No," snarled the bearded man at the others as he shoved his pistol back in his holster. "Get the girl." When they didn't seem to change their target, the man groaned and pulled a kylie from his belt. He ran his fingers over the polished wood before setting it flying. It spun towards the unsuspecting girl.

Thunk. Mary watched her daughter stumble and then crumble. She lilted to the side opposite the blow, then to the other, and down she went. Her face hit the sand, and she didn't get up.

Mary fired straight up between her attackers. They jumped back, covering their ears. Mary lunged forward and ran with the speed of a thousand generations of mothers. "She's no good to you dead," she snarled as she closed the distance between herself and Furiosa with the pointed the barrel at her daughter's skull. "I will kill her if you touch her."

The bearded man groaned as he slowly lifted his hands. "What's your offer, witch?"

"Take my bike," Mary offered. She tried to control the pleading tone of her voice.

"We were goin' a do that anyway," he said as approached. "And, we're not leavin without her."

"Not without me either." Her voice was clear, with resolve that even surprised her. She no longer had to work to calm the panic in her chest; she just had to coast on it.

The bearded man was close enough to see her face now, close enough the see the lines carved by years of wind and sun. Just being female wouldn't be enough to keep her alive for much longer, but she was more than just female...a mother, a healer, a survivor...

"Why would we want you?" he asked, clearly surprised by this turn of events.

"She's no good to you dead," said Mary. She gave the man a once over, narrowing her eyes disapprovingly. "And judging by your personal standards of grooming and...hygiene, if you haven't killed her already, infection can't be too far away."

"That other one can clean her up," he countered.

Mary held his gaze and was pleased with what she saw. He was younger than she had first thought and less sure of himself. The lot of them probably had barely a century between them. The one she had killed was probably in charge, and now she had his second in command scrambling to keep ahold of a sliver of authority. Would could be more impressive than to salvage a situation from his boss while brining back two desert witches? Bringing back three - of course that would be using a rather liberal definition. She turned her head slowly, pulling him along, and the others followed his lead. They all looked back to see Pala curled up and sobbing in the corner of the utility vehicle as if one cue.

"Not like I can. Even with a good cleaning and a good stitching, infection could still happen. I know how to fix that. They don't call my people witches for nothing. I'm worth my wait in water." She watched him gauging his reaction. He hadn't shot her yet, might as well further argue her case. "And that's assuming she even survives the trip to her new home. Just like she's no good to you dead; she's no good to you paralyzed. That's how she'll end up if you don't treat her proper with a concussion like she has. Gotta hold her head like a baby's; I don't suppose you would know anything about that. I bet you haven't noticed she's been unconscious for oh, about three minutes already."

He sighed and had the men check her for weapons. They took her gun, her knife, and her helmet and loaded them and her bike into the utility vehicle. Their leader stood over Mary, arms crossed, weapon drawn and dangling nonchalantly, while she examined her daughter. "Better be quick," he warned.

The girl could have been sleeping except for being so awkwardly crumpled. Her breaths were quiet, her face still flushed with exertion. Mary stroked the girl's cheek. "Fury?"

The girl pressed her visible eye further closed and then opened it deliberately. She she blinked a few times and then squinted.

Mary swallowed her relief and pressed her mouth against the girl's ear. "Don't move; just..."

Her mouth moved against the ground. "Wha?"

"Perfect." Hot tears pooled in Mary's eyes, but there was no time for relief. She looked up at her captours. "I need to roll her so I can check the wounds. I need an assistant." She indicated with her head towards Pala. "She can help if I guide her, needs to be coached."

He nodded. "Be quick about it. We need to get going." He leaned over and grabbed Mary by the jaw. "And don't try anything."

"I'm her mother. She's my priority."

"Here you go." Pala tumbled out of the ute and whimpered when she hit he ground.

"I need her hands free. Goddess, you're not very good at this precious cargo business." She stroked her daughter's hair while the men untied Pala. She leaned in yo speak to Furiosa. "We're going to turn you over. You need to let us know if anything hurts. Do you understand?" She added in a whisper, "You can just groan or something."

The girl dipped her chin ever so slightly and brought it up again. Her visible eye was clearer now, confused, frightened, pained; everything was showing through. Mary gave her a hand to squeeze as positioned herself behind Furiosa's head.

"We've got this," she promised. Then she took off her own jacket and rolled it into a makeshift brace. "Here Pala, roll her gently to her other side. I'll take care of her head."

"I didn't mean for this to happen," Pala whispered, her voice shaking with panic as she grabbed Furiosa's shoulder.

"Of course you didn't. Now you need to focus."

"But this is all my fault." Her voice cracked with desperation as she looked up at Mary with pleading eyes.

Mary gritted her teeth and narrowed her eyes. She'd never understood what her daughter saw in this girl. "All the more reason for you to help me. Now, easy, careful..."

Furiosa grimaced and grunted as they lifted her. Sand stuck to the blood on her forehead and deltoid. Once she was propped on Mary's lap, Mary unwound the girl's scarf to check her neck - no marks, thankfully. She replaced it, and started untying her own.

"I need something to cut her shirt and water to wash the wounds. There's a canteen behind my seat."

"Do it in the ute. She looks alive enough," the bearded man grumbled in an effort to reassert his authority.

Mary tied her scarf around the jacket turned brace as quickly as she could. She'd give the wound a good cleaning as soon as possible, but until then she couldn't get a good look at it. The bleeding on neither wound was too concerning in and of itself. She was fairly sure there wasn't a neck injury to complicate things, but the men didn't need to know that.

"In the ute," the man repeated. This time he pointed his pistol at them.

Furiosa shook her head, smacking her face against her mother's palms. "No, I'm not going."

"I told you, we've got this," said Mary firmly as she pressed her hands against the girl's cheeks. "They have my bike and weapons. We have to go with them."

"All of us," said Pala as they started to lift her. "I'm here too."

"Here, I'll get in first, and then hold her head in my lap."

One of the underlings protested, "She's alive. She's fucking awake." He leaned forward to get a better look at Mary's face. "I don't think we need you anymore."

"You don't know shite about concussions then!" Mary shot back. "I guess you're too young to know what jell-o is because that's what she'll turn into if she bounces around back here and gets Second Impact Syndrome. You have to have at least heard that if she falls asleep she can die." She made a spot for herself leaning against her bike as she spoke.

"Your master won't be happy to hear how you are treating his new wives," said Pala, becoming braver with each word. "You knock out one and shove the other off the back of a ute?" She clicked her tongue. "That's not even mentioning the grazing; I bet it leaves a scar. Agro won't be happy."

The men said nothing as their prisoners climbed in. Then two joined them the back while the others locked them all in and closed up the tarp roof.

Mary leaned between the wheels of bike with Furiosa's head in her lap. She stroked the girl's face as they waited for the vehicle to start moving. The engine started, and the vehicle lurched into motion before speeding away. In that moment the reality of their situation sunk in for Mary. She'd been too focused on ensuring her daughter's survival from moment to moment to appreciate her own predicament. Stolen, to old for breeding...

Furiosa stirred, pulling Mary back to the present. She and Pala helped Furiosa to her good side. Once there, Furiosa pulled her knees towards her chest, curling herself.

"How do you feel?" Mary asked as she set to work with her canteen and strips of fabric from her own shirt.

"Everything." Furiosa winced and curled further into her mother's lap as the rough fabric touched her open flesh. "Is it true that I'll die if I fall asleep?"

"Don't worry about it. I won't let you." Mary leaned closer and whispered, "Besides, scientific opinion turned against that ages ago."

Furiosa curled her mouth into a slight smile. "My mother the liar. The next thing you'll say is that the cleaning won't hurt a bit."

Chapter Text

Corse fabric covered Furiosa's eyes; rope bound her wrists and ankles. A vague, brown darkness surrounded her. It was think and soupy with indistinct splotches of light. She reached down in the muck for answers, anything to explain the clear and terrible truth.

"Someone will come for us," she whispered aloud, as if giving breath to the words could make them true.

"Don't count on it," said the person behind her.

She recognized the voice immediately, and she pressed herself back against the body behind her. "Mum!"

"Shh...For now, we are on our own...shh...” Mary returned the press with steady, warm contact “Do you hear anyone in the tent with us?" she asked, her whisper soft and steady.

Furiosa extended her attention beyond herself and waited, listening. There was her mother's purposeful breathing. There were three male voices, all outside the tent. "No, but we still have to be quiet."

“How many are there? How far away?” her mother pressed.

“Three that are talking now, not about us. They might be twenty meters away.”

“Good,” said Mary, pride coloring her voice.

Furiosa took the praise for what it was worth and started trying to piece together the events that made prisoners of herself and her mother. She thought back to the night before, how strong and adult she had felt standing watch during the festivities... how wrong she'd been. "Do you know what happened to Pala?"

"No, she must be in a different tent," Mary mused.

"She might be dead," the girl whispered, her voice quivering on the edge of emotion. She couldn't think of any other reason why Pala wasn't with them.

"I don't think so... What do you remember?"

She started where things were clearest. "I was watching the sunrise with Pala, and we were attacked." Furiosa remembered hands on her face and body. She remembered fear like jumper cables to her heart. She remembered finding her senses first, then her little knife; it found flesh. Then the memories were vaguer, fragments with chipped edges so nothing fit together properly. Gunfire. Sand heavy on her feet as she sprinted. "Where are we? How did you get here?" A vile fear rose in her. "Did they attack…home?”

"I followed you two." Mary spoke with forced and measured calm.

"Oh Goddess, I got you captured too?"

“You did no such thing." Then her voiced warmed, "I wouldn't want you here by yourself. I followed you, and I'm glad I did. You took a pretty good knock on the head during the struggle. These idiots would have just let you roll around the back of the ute. We rode for probably 200 km, mostly north, but I didn't have a good view so I can't be sure. Do you remember any of that?"

Furiosa thought for a while, tried to sift through the sands of her mind for something definite, any buried pieces of memory. "I think I might."

"What's the first thing you clearly remember?"

"Clearly?" she slmost laughed at the word, almost. "Being shoved in here, already tied up. Hitting the ground, not being able to catch myself... There was a second earlier, before they blindfolded me. I didn't get a look at anything, just an eyeful of sun."

Do you still have your knife?"

Furiosa pressed her calves together. "No, they took it."

"So they aren't utter morons."

She felt her mother move behind her. "Do you still have one?"

"Not exactly..." said Mary, her voice almost playful.

Furiosa felt a promising prick through her clothing to her lower back.

"That is what I have. It's just a sharp edge on my bracelet. It's better than nothing."

"Mm-hm." A little stab of hope…

"I'll work on my ties for a little while, and then I'll work on yours. I'll go back and forth so we get free at the same time. As it gets looser, pretend that it's still tight. Hide any slack or frayed edges..."

"What should I do for now?" Furiosa asked. The possibility of escape had stirred her to clarity.

"Keep an ear out. Let me know if anyone sounds like they are coming towards us."

A gentle, steady sawing sound began. She would have found it soothing under ordinary circumstances, like a road noise lullaby, but now it made her anxious. "We should talk about something else, in case anyone is eaves dropping on us, so they don't hear the cutting."

"Good idea,” said Mary, “as long as you can still listen to what's going on outside. Don't get distracted.”

"I can, and I won't."

"Good." She paused, sawing harder, then asked, "What have you been learning from K.T.?"

"How to teach the younger children, how to read them, how to decide how much information to give them."

"That means you must be ready to graduate soon."

"I guess." Talking about herself didn't make her any more comfortable.

"My little girl, almost grown. K.T.'s done a good job finishing you off."

"How long will it take you to cut us free?"

"It's not about the time; it's about the timing. How are you; are you dizzy at all?"

"I don't think so," she said as she shifted her weight to try and get a sense of her balance.

“We'll wait until it gets dark and quiet outside, then I'll make the last cut. Then we'll have to be fast, get out of here, no turning back..."

"I think I hear Pala," Furiosa interrupted her.

Pala's buoyant voice lilted over the men's conversation. First it sounded like a cry, but it's brightness proved it to be a laugh of delight. "Ooh, it's pretty. Where did you find it?" She cooed.

"A trader to the north," answered a new voice, not one of the kidnappers.

Furiosa heard a lightweight metal container being opened.

"And it smells wonderful!"

"It's all yours. As promised, my queen. Let's boil some water for it."

"I'm sorry, Fury..." her mother whispered.

"I don't know if this makes up for sending your thugs to do your dirty work," Pala said warily.

"Pala, you have to trust me,” the man chided.

"I trust you. It's them I have a problem with; they were unnecessarily brutish. They threw me out of a ute and banged up my friend."

"She struggled," he pointed out, his voice betraying his disinterested irritation.

"Of course she struggled. You wanted a witch wife; they fight back. Having one wouldn't be so prestigious if they didn't."

"But couldn't you have picked, I don't know, one we didn't have to bash over the head to calm her down?"

"You don't understand. That would be like choosing a taipan over a brown snake for a pet," Pala said. " The both could kill you with their bites. The only difference is one will try and scare you off first."

"All the more reason for me to have sent my men."

"Agro, as your wife and your queen, I need you to listen to me. You didn't live with them. You don't know what they are like. You need to be kind to my friend. She was good to me; now I need you to be good to her. She's your wife too now; don't make me regret giving her to you, for her sake and yours."

Furiosa caved in, collapsing on herself. She dropped her head between her shoulders to fill .

"Goddess, I'm so stupid! Fucking stupid.”

"Fury, there's no way you could have known."

"Did you know?" Her voice was rough with hurt.

"Only since this morning. You were there. I guess you don't remember."

"Is that why you let me think she was dead?"

Mary didn't bother correcting her. Instead she said, "Just let her be dead to you...Look, you shouldn't be stressed like this. Our situation is precarious enough without adding to it. I'm sorry you don't have the luxury of letting your injuries heal properly. I'm sorry about everything."

Furiosa shook her head until it hurt, and then she kept on through the pain, riding it, coasting. But then her shaking moved to her chest- great, dry sobs like earthquakes until only rage remained. She gave her voice over to it. She thrashed her shoulders and bucked her hips, contorting herself until she found her mother's shoulder. She brushed and pushed her face against it until she managed to push her blindfold up. Overwhelmed by that little bit of freedom, she pressed the back of her head against her mother's shoulder and let her tears flow as she sniffed. Maybe if she were lucky, she wound drown in them.

"Hey," her mother pressed her own head back.

"Keep it down in there or we'll gag you again," threatened the man named Argo from outside. "See," he continued, probably to Pala. "This is why I have to keep them tied up. Damn animals."

"Shh..." Mary moved her body slowly, rocking back and forth. "Shh…You've just got your eyes back," Mary whispered, "no sense in filling them up with tears." She forced a smile, pressing her cheek against her daughter's face. "Here, can you help me with mine? I'm not as flexible as you are." The two laughed as Furiosa obliged. "You're like a little cat," Mary cooed as she replicated the motion. Wet cheek touched wet cheek.

It took a little effort, but soon Mary's blindfold was off as well. The two tilted back their heads to try and see each. There was Mary's wild hair of dark curls, the color of wood. Flecks of silver caught the last of the daylight. Then Furiosa looked out through the walls of the tent to see silhouettes move against the late day sun. There were windows at the top with clear coverings. There was something tall between them, taller than a tree and square. There were even windows at the top with coverings that were once clear. The tent itself was fairly large with enough pillows and blankets on the tarp floor to make it seem almost luxurious, or at least it would be once someone saw fit to arrange them..

They pressed their backs together so they could stand. Then they took turns facing the different mesh windows. Each movement had to be a coordinated effort of synchronised tiny steps and hops. In a way the effort was an oasis, each failure a distraction, each success a solace.

Their labour resulted more in exhaustion than information about their location, but Furiosa did catch a glimpse of Pala in all her glorious comfort, every trace of her time with the Vuvalini was gone. She now wore a dress that reached the ground. Little bits of glass on it bounced the sunlight in a disorienting shimmer. Sure the bottom was dusty, and sure the decoration had worn off in a few places, but the intended effect was still achieved. She looked like some strange and foreign goddess of pretty and useless baubles.

Furiosa withdrew from the widow, withdrew from the sight of such ridiculous luxury, and contemplated it as she and her mother folded themselves back to the barely covered ground. Each awkward, shifting movement between the pair, each time they almost crashed to their knees or hips, Pala's betrayal became more complete. Then as Furiosa sat and listened to the steady, soft rubbing of her mother working at their ropes, she held Pala in her mind. Breath by breath, she let that betrayal infuriate her.

***

 

Mary kept working at the ropes into the night. Blackness filled the tent; the only light came from the distorted outlines of campfires. It even smelled of night - fires in the chilled air, roasting meat. The hunger that had been hiding behind dry mouth, full bladder, and sore joints came forward.

Furiosa's mouth ached as it tried to salivate. She willed herself to speak. "Did they forget about us?"

"No, they're trying to make us be more cooperative by making us feel grateful when they finally give us something we want…the oldest trick in the book."

Someone unzipped the front of the tent, someone with light steps and carrying a pot.

"It's me," said Pala. "Can you be civil?"

"Such an interesting word choice," said Mary from behind.

Furiosa waited in silence. Pala wasn't worth the effort of speech.

"You can even go outside first, if you want,” Pala offered.

"Imagine that, sanitary conditions," snapped Mary.

"I'll take that as a yes, please," said Pala. She turned on a torch. "Stand up, let's go."

"Wow, the little mouse is showing some spunk," commented Mary as she and Furiosa pressed their backs together to stand.

"Look," Pala said as she gave their ropes a tug, "I don't like having to treat you like this. I'm no better than you; I only behave better. You could walk around, come and go as you please, if you would stop acting like animals and start acting like human beings."

"The funny thing about human beings is they become how you treat them," said Mary, quieter this time.

"And that's why I'm taking you outside. Argo has no interest in keeping an animal for a wife." She knelt and untied the ropes around their ankles. "You just need to prove you can be trusted." She paused before adding, "And you should thank me for not putting your blindfolds back on."

They walked awkwardly out of the tent, and Pala set down the pot of food before leading them across the camp. Both Furiosa and Mary were quiet, focusing on taking in their surroundings. There were four square pillars of concrete holding up a roof over the center section of the camp. Around it were parked a collection of a dozen or so vehicles, mostly utilities and motorcycles. Small sand dunes lined the perimeter where Pala took them, and they finally got a chance to look for the moon.

When they got back to the tent Pala retied their feet and then opened the pot of warm broth and shredded meat. Its scent filled the tent.

She started towards Furiosa who resolutely shook her head. "Feed my mother first,” she croaked, her throat angry. “I'm not ready to deal with you yet."

"I understand" said Pala as she withdrew the pot with an unnecessarily slow sweep of her arm.

Furiosa felt her mother lean towards the food and tense in anticipation. To her horror, she realised that her mother hadn't eatten any of the Imbolc feast, maybe a few nuts or dates, but nothing of substance. Mary took her dinner with impressive discipline.

Then it was Furiosa's turn. Pala knelt before her and held out the bowl. "Fury, I..."

"You don't get to call me that." It came out angrier than she'd intended. She half expected Pala to through the remains of the soup in her face. That's at least what she wanted to do.

Instead Pala scooped up some broth in the spoon and extended it to her. Furiosa closed her mouth around it and swallowed. It was warm, thin, bland, and yet divine. She tried her best to hide just how much she wanted more; Pala didn't need the satisfaction. She held her face as stone. She tried to pretend the girl wasn't there and to lose herself in her dinner. Still, the girl's face moved in the upper reaches of the torchlight. It cast strange shadows on her face, making her look both lovely and monstrous. Furiosa closed her eyes and accepted another mouthful of soup.

"I can understand why you are angry," said Pala, stirring the soup. "I've already apologised once, which apparently wasn't enough, and I will keep doing it until you believe me. I'm sorry for what you went through. I'm sorry everything happened the way it did. I know you've already been turned off from marriage, and this can't possibly be helping, but I promise, it will get better. You will be happy and healthy and well-cared for, both of you."

Furiosa swallowed deliberately and took a long, slow breath. "I would have liked to have some say in the matter," she said, her eyes still closed.

Pala gave her one last spoonful. "I know you won't believe me, but despite everything, I hope you know," she said as she set the spoon back in the bowl, "that I love you."

Furiosa boiled. She tried to keep her throat from closing - food was more important than her emotions. She opened her eyes to see Pala's earnest face, and she remembered that no one was about to let her starve. Broth, saliva, and good intentions dripped from Pala's face.

Chapter Text

Boisterous laughter still came from outside the tent. The vague glow of a fire still lit the tent, but it was starting to weaken. Furiosa felt sleep cloud her mind. She let her head loll back, onto her mother's shoulder.

"What do you think?" her mother asked, "Are we better off waiting until tomorrow?"

"Will they ever go to sleep?" she mumbled without lifting her head.

"Not all of them, no. They'll have lookouts."

Furiosa nodded her head upright. "So we'll need a headstart. We'll need a vehicle...that means finding keys... Or, If we can sneak out without anyone noticing, wouldn't it be better to just run? They'll hear us starting an engine?"

"The trip is too far, and they'll catch up to us when they wake up. If we get a small motorcycle, we can roll it to start out," answered Mary.

"We would still have to match a key...but if they keep them all together, we should just take all of them. That way they won't be able to follow."

"That's my girl." She heard stirring outside their tent.

"But where do..."

"Shh." She added in a breathy whisper, "We wait for them to come to us."

"Still awake, I hear?" asked a male voice as the tent opened. He stepped in, holding up the same torch as Pala had brought earlier. Already lit, it turned the uniform dark into a mix of sharp and soft shadows.

"We aren't exactly in the most comfortable position," Mary replied.

"If you can behave yourselves, we might be able to do something about that." The man raised his torch so he could get a better look at them. "So you are my witches..."

He was a tall man; he had to duck his head in the tent, but he was gangly, awkward, unsure. He pressed his lips together beneath his beard.

"What were you expecting?" Mary asked.

Furiosa remained silent as the man, Agro from the sound of his voice, moved to face Mary.

"Younger, for one," he said in what seemed like an attempt at levity.

"There's too many young people around here, not enough old; no one seems to know what they're doing," said Mary defiantly.

He grunted and leaned in. He took her chin in his hand and held up his torch. A monstrous shadow formed on the tent wall behind them- a round mass of dangling hair and rounded back. Furiosa felt her mother's heartbeat within her own chest. It felt calmer than her own, patient somehow.

"Still pretty," Agro finally said before he withdrew his hand.

He then moved to Furiosa, and the miraculous stillness of Mary's pulse became more human. His touch was light, as though he were afraid of breaking her. He ran his thumb over her cheek and then her mouth as one might a strange berry before eating it. He then hung the torch from a hook at the front of the tent. Now both hands were free and hungry.

"I suggest you try me first," said Mary from behind, her voice husky but melodic. "She'll be frightened unless she sees me enjoy myself first."

Agro shifted his attention back to Mary. She adjusted herself so she could swing her legs around to her front. She then extended them slowly, invitingly at an angle Furiosa could see over her shoulder. There were her mother's strong runner's legs, toes pointed in their boots.

"I could use a hand," laughed Mary. It wasn't a frightened laugh; it was spirited and cunning.

He obliged. He untied her ankles one by one.

"That feels so good, thank you," Mary cooed as she stretched her ankles. "You have no idea what it's like to not be able to move your feet... And the hands?" she asked.

"Yeah nah, I think I like you better like this." His mouth hung slightly open as if his lips were dripping from his jaw as his eyes moved up and down.

"Mary pressed her back against Furiosa's to lift her hips as Agro started to tug at her pants. "There's a drawstring inside my waistband.

What was her mother doing letting this monster touch her? Why hadn't she hit him yet? Why was she waiting? Furiosa pulled at her ropes, testing them. There were close to breaking, so close...if she could only do it quietly...ahh, sweet freedom. Or at least the beginnings of it...she set to work on her ankles as she tried to ignore the sounds coming from behind her.

One sound found its way to her ears, a light "ting-ching," the most beautiful sound in the world. She twisted her head to see bits of metal dangling from the man's belt: copper, bronze, silver, chrome glimmering beneath a layer of tarnish, catching light from the torch. Mary had to notice them. F looked at her mother expectantly, caught her gaze, and then slowly, deliberately looked at the keys. Mary disguised a nod in flirtatious head toss as if to say, "Oh, I know. I'm on it."

The sound came again and proved Furiosa wrong; it could be even more beautiful. This time the "ching" lengthened as Agro shifted. Then it turned to a "shh," as if the keys knew what was coming. Finally, a "chang" announced them meeting the ground.

Mary exploded into action. She tore her hands free as she rolled Agro to his back. Furiosa finished off her own ankles and shoved the rope scraps into her top. She turned around just in time to see her mother's elbow swing into the man's face.

"Get the keys!" Mary hissed before dropping her elbow again. She bore her teeth in a half grimace, half smile of enjoyed effort. The sound of bone hitting bone followed.

The keys shown in all their grimey glory. They threw bits of light on the tent walls as the man thrashed. Furiosa lunged at them. She missed at first. She pressed the full weight of her body against the man's legs to try and hold them still. The keys still taunted her. The thrashing calmed as the man tired, and then it turned to twitching. Her hand met the cool metal of his carabiner, and as she freed it from his belt loop, she looked towards her mother.

"Find a vehicle, and come back for me!" ordered Mary, contorting her wrists and Agro's shirt collar around his throat.

He gurgled as Furiosa fumbled with the tent zipper. Adrenaline made her hands shake. The keys jingled euphorically. The night air, cool by comparison after so many hours or stale air and bodies, smacked her into focus. She tucked the keys into her top to keep them from quiet and zipped the tent closed behind her. She took one last look over her shoulder before she ran from the tent with long, soft strides, the image of her mother's gleeful violence fresh in her mind.

She dug through her mind for memories of when Pala had led them out a few hours before. The moon had been higher than, maybe forty-five degrees above the horizon. Now it hung at about thirty in the west. Vehicles were still parked abound the camp. She would have to find one with a reasonably full tank and room for two, then try all the keys until she found a match. Then she'd pick up her mother, and they would drive off with all the other keys as well. At worst, it would by them some time while their captors scrambled for spares. It felt like a good plan, at least for one they were making up as they went along.

One pale, moonlit figure stood in her way. "Furiosa, what are you doing out here?" gasped Pala.

"I could ask you the same thing," Furiosa hissed as she pushed her way past.

Pala jogged after her as best she could in her ridiculous, long dress. She stepped on it first, ripping her side seam, before she held its trailing skirts above her knees. Behind her, she left a trail of sparkling beads.

"Go back to bed, Pala," Furiosa said as she stood before a relatively small, rusty utility vehicle. One by one, she tried the keys, one frantic, scratchy shove after another.

"You can't leave," the girl protested.

Furiosa turned and watched her with cold eyes and a calm face. "If you are my friend like you keep saying you are, you'll let us go."

Pala's eyes were wide, her voice quivering like Agro's legs. Furiosa took a moment to register that Pala was afraid, not just intimidated, afraid. She'd never known anyone to be afraid of her before, and she didn't know what to make of her new-found power.

"Do you promise not to hurt me?" Pala asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

"No more than you hurt me... I know you came with the mission to bring one of us back to these people. You fooled all of us. I knew you believed backwards things, but I never thought you had that in you."

Pala's voice grew louder and stronger when Furiosa turned to her attention back to opening the ute. "Your ways are beautiful, but they're hopeless." Furiosa turned back towards her and bore into the girl as she spoke. "You're people with your little women's paradise are only delaying the inevitable. We are weaker than men; the bad ones will control us, dominate us, destroy us if we don't position ourselves under the love and protection of the good ones. We were made from them by God, and so we are destined to always be beneath them. You're a fool to fight it. All of you are, but you most of all, because if you would just accept it, Agro would love you as he does me. You could be safe and happy here."

"Safe?" Furiosa scoffed as she stepped closer, trapping the hem of the girl's skirt under her foot. "Like I said, I will never understand that. All I want to know..." she cupped her hand under Pala's chin, and Pala's bravery quickly dissipated. Furiosa found herself enjoying how the girl quivered. "Is why me?"

"You were my friend. You trusted me," Pala whimpered.

"Was I just more stupid than everyone else?" There was more pain in her voice than she'd intended.

Pala shook her head, and tears fell down her cheeks.

"Then what was it?"

"You were kind!"

Furiosa's stomach knotted with shock and anger as she looked at this sniveling, quivering creature, its mind so disgustingly warped. How could it use friendship and kindness as justification for such a betrayal?

"Let's go," she imagined her mother saying. "She's wasted enough of our time already."

"I wanted you for my sister wife because you were kind to me."

Furiosa had heard all she needed. In that moment she saw Pala with terrifying clarity. She say an animal trained to be vicious, tragically lost, beyond help, beyond hope. "Now, go back to bed. If you make so much as a sound, I will kill you."

"You wouldn't."

With all her weight on the skirt beneath her foot, Furiosa grabbed Pala's wrist. "Why, because I'm kind?"

Pala pulled her hand to her back as she turned, just as the Vuvalini had taught her, and she bolted. She left behind a strip of fabric at Furiosa's feet. She grabbed it a sprung after Pala. The girl got out one shriek before Furiosa caught up to her, slipped the white fabric around her throat, and pulled her back in a crescent.

The fabric was too fragile to hold a choke, but it worked nicely as a gag. It slipped into Pala's open mouth, the lose beads clinging to her lips as Furiosa tied it back behind her head. Furiosa remembered the bits of frayed rope shed saved from her own bindings, but she decided she found more satisfaction in using the dress scraps; she even chuckled smugly, proud that she had dethroned this foreign goddess of useless baubles by finding a practical use for her garment.

She brought Pala forward and gave the girl a swift knee to the stomach. Pala grunted as she buckled, crunching the sparkling glass beads between her teeth. After a slightly higher strike knocked all the air from her lungs, she sucked the beads deep into her chest, their sharpness carving away at her soft insides.

Furiosa placed a knee on the back of her shoulder and shoved her to the ground. She kicked the girl until her the mass of pale hair and white fabric turned red. Then she rolled Pala to her back. Her light eyes pleaded, glittering with tears and panic in the dark. Furiosa would have none of it. She turned the girl's cheek sharply with her knee and all her weight. Click. The girl was still. Furiosa rose and swung her shin into the girl's quiet body over and over again.

"Let's go!" Mary grabbed Furiosa by the shoulders.

"She was going to raise the alarm," Furiosa snarled back in a whisper before releasing one final stomp.

The rustling in the camp, stirring, mumbles of suspicion. Mother and daughter made for the first rusty vehicle.

"Did you match the key?" asked Mary.

"Almost, I got about two-thirds of the way around the ring, haven't found it yet."

"Shit, we're running out of time."

"I know."

Furiosa started too try and separate the keys, but that proved to be too time-consuming. So she kept them all while Mary ran for the passenger's side. She had made it almost to the door when the shots began. The first hit the rear windshield. Furiosa took shelter behind the engine and watched Mary dive towards it as well. More shots - Mary crumpled in the sand.

"Mum!" Furiosa crawled towards her.

Mary struggled to her knees and then to her feet as she held her side. Blood coloured her clothing. Another shot - this one higher caliber - tore through her abdomen. She buckled forward, her insides spilling out like stew.

Chapter Text

Day 2

Back in the tent- except this time there was no food, no water, no hygiene breaks. No one bothered with ties this time either. Instead, they threw the mother and daughter back in the tent and took turns standing guard while they debated about the girl's fate. They made no effort to hide their voices and their plans. They couldn't just let her go: she had to be punished for her part in killing their leader. They couldn't just kill her though: that wouldn't be punishment enough, and she still had to be worth something.

Furiosa heard them talking though she tried not to think too far ahead. Instead she pressed her hands to her mother's torn belly and pushed as though between her hands and her will she could hold their lives together. Her own panic could come and go without consequence so long as she held back the torrent of blood. And so she did, she funneled every thought, every emotion into a single purpose: hold back the blood.

Finally, the bleeding slowed, and Furiosa let Mary rest, an old blanket covering her wounds, her breathing shallow and laboured. Furiosa had gotten the bleeding under control, but without water or proper supplies, the situation was bleak. It hung over them, unspoken, like a stubborn cloud hoarding its water, like something Mary used to call an "elephant." Furiosa turned her back to it, refused to look at it while she tore her clothes and what little was left of the tent furnishings into dressings.

"You should have kept going, found the key! You could learn have made it home," Mary rebuked her with desperation in her eyes. "You could have at least run. Why didn't you run?"

"I...I couldn't leave you," Furiosa stammered as she worked. She looked away, fixed her eyes on the bits of fabric between her fingers.

"Fury, look at me," Mary said, her voice forced into steadiness. "There is nothing you can do for me." She looked almost normal now that her guts were covered, just a little weak, a little grey.

"But, you seem..." She was desperate for hope.

"It doesn't matter how I seem. Infection, it's characteristic of the wound. You know that."

"But they could help you." Characteristic of the wound didn't have to mean inevitable. With water and honey and salt and the right plants and fungi, Mary could have a chance.

"They can't and they won't. You know that too. That's why they went after me. I'm disposable to them." Her tone softened. "It doesn't matter anyway. I have two days, maybe a little bit more, but that's all. Even if we were home, it would probably turn out the same way."

"I'm not leaving you until then."

Mary hardened her face and spoke deliberately. "No, if you get a chance, a real chance, a good chance, you will take it."

Furiosa had been calm until now, but here was the elephant, loud, large, and undeniable. She didn't dare look at it, but she couldn't look away. Tears ran down the girl's face. Sobs crowded her throat so she could only nod.

"And if there are no chances, you'll dig your heels in and wait. Don't imagine chances where there are none. Be like that peach stone Grandmother Fang gave you; keep your shell intact and your seeds of hope inside. As long as you're alive, you can still make it home. Promise me that, promise me that no matter how long it takes, you will find your way home."

She nodded furiously as she squeezed her eyes shut. Then she buried her face into her mother's neck.

"No, I need you to say it."

She took two long, slows breaths. "I promise."

"What do you promise?"

"I promise I will find my way home."

"Good," Mary's demeanor softened. She smoothed Furiosa's hair as the girl again buried her face against her mother's skin. "That's where I'm going when I get out of here, back to the lap of the Resting Mother. The Regenerating Father will take all the energy stored in my flesh, and through it the Nurturing Mother will do her work. You see, all energy and matter are merely different forms of the same thing. The God and the Goddess are one, merging, blending, differentiating into all the names and forms of the Panthean."

Mary paused. Until now her speech had found its ease like she had stumbled into words she already knew, into a well-worn track, but now she'd gone off road. "I'm worried about you...with everything these men are doing to you, I need you to understand, there are still and have always been good men. Your father was a good man. Valkyrie's father is a good man. I don't want you to think that all the men in the world are like these men here."

"I know."

"Of course you know in your head, but I need you to know it fully. These are not the only men the way they are, there are so many more than you could ever count. That's why it's important to remember that there are still those who are good, just like there are women who are not."

Mary continued, "Every single one of us, every man, every woman, every shield, every beast, every plant, we are all both Goddess and God. Good and bad, right and wrong have nothing to do with being male or female or being masculine or feminine; everyone has all of these. How does fuel become power for the bike? How does food become energy for your body?

"All the good and evil of the world are in the Panthean, and all the Panthean is in all of us. That is why the God and the Goddess cannot tell you who to be. Only you decide what names and forms to honour. Only you decide who you want to be because all options are open to you. This is the last great secret of the Vuvalini. You will spend the rest of your life learning to understand it."

"But..." Furiosa protested as she recognized her mother's words and came to understand what her mother was doing. "How do I know?"

"The same as ever: value life, value the Earth, value yourself, value each other, value your home, and value our ways. Honour whatever faces of the Panthean help you best to do these things. Tie these values to your core so the storms of life cannot take them from you."

The girl did; she reached out her hand and imagined grasping all the good in the world with her fingers. She pulled them as if they were tied to a rope, pulled down through her heart. Then muscle by muscle, she undulated them to her pelvis.

"How did you find ending Pala?"

The girl thought for a moment. She'd now receive the last great secret of her people. Her mother would find a lesson in whatever her answer. So she answered truthfully. "Easier than I thought it would be. I didn't even have to think about it as I was doing it...it was like my body wanted her dead." Shame chewed her stomach while she spoke the words. If only Pala hadn't come out... If only she had been faster, more merciful, took less pleasure in the killing... If only she'd never trusted Pala in the first place.

But Mary only spoke with compassion. "That's common. All life exists only because of what it takes from other life. All life has value, even and especially life that is taken. Do you see what could become of your ease? How it could turn to enjoyment?"

The girl nodded and looked away. She felt small and wanted to become even smaller.

"There's no shame in that. It's good to see things in process; that's the only way to stop them. You can never make yourself become who you want to be if you don't know who you are becoming. Who do you want to be?"

She swollowed her shame, her guilt; she would have time for them later. The present was about her mother and how Mary was attempting to scrape together ceremony out of nothing. "But what about the tattoo?" Furiosa asked, trying to make sure her mother had thought of everything.

"That can wait. You are my daughter, and graduating you is my right. It's not the ceremony or the rituals that are important; it's what they signify. Now, who do you want to be?"

"A Vuvalini."

"And so you are."

Tears ran down both of their faces.

Day 3

Furiosa could tell her mother was slipping, just like she said she would. Mary's stoic veneer had worn away and left behind moans, whimpers, and silent grimaces. Her belly swelled and stank, oozed until Furiosa could no longer stand to check it. The girl just tore more and more fabric from her own clothing for dressings because she couldn't stand to do nothing. Mary shivered and sweated, chattered her teeth. Sometimes she fell into blessed sleep. Mostly she just stared and waited as pain and fever racked her body. She didn't talk much anymore, other than to whisper a single desperate word: "Please."

Furiosa's voice had worn itself away. She'd spent hours demanding help, water, all the remedies she knew were worth trying.... And then when Mary started whispering her single word, she cried for a gun and a bullet, not because she wanted them, but because she couldn't stand the thought of using her own hands. But the Reaping Mother can be cruel; she follows her own schedule, and Mary survived the night.

When sunrise didn't bring water, Furiosa wondered if she had also been left to die herself. She curled herself beside her mother and tried to listen to the conversations outside the tent. Her head was too full from thirst and crying for any of the words to be clear. Still, the men had to be talking about her...even if not at that exact moment...a tent was too good important of a resource to waste on rotting corpses. She thought of what her acquisition had cost them: their leader, another man, their leader's wife. Obviously she wasn't worth feeding anymore...

Motors! Vehicles surrounded the camp. One stopped between the tent and the sun, eclipsing its light and covering the tent in shadow.

An amplified voice announced, "Hear me. Great V-8, Prime Mover, Unrustable Chrome, Master of Death and the Undying has seen the anguish of our short lives and blessed us with the presence of his son. To this immortal among wretched tribute must be paid. Our lord is mighty and vengeful. Deny him what he did is owed, and Death will fall upon you, and tribute will be taken tenfold."

Engines revved. Men hollered. Guns fired in an exuberant waste of resources.

Then the tent front opened. "In here, your tribute is in here,"
A white man walked in, his pistol drawn. His skin was pale as bones. He had just a skull for a face with black eyes and hollow cheeks. Mary stirred as he approached, as if she'd been saving her energy for this moment. Something primal awoke in her, and she reached for the skull man, this being of Death incarnate.

"Help us," said Furiosa.

The man fired. A single, merciful bullet knocked back Mary's head.

"Witness," the man said as he lowered his weapon.

Chapter Text

Interlude - Almost 18 Years Earlier

"Que pasa, Jabassa?" Oliver burst into the flat and let the door slam behind him.

Mary looked up from her desk. "You can't be serious," she muttered, her chin still resting on her palm.

Oliver shrugged. "Just trying to keep things light."

"Good luck with that." Gunfire sounded down the street as if emphasising her point.

Then the outside was calm as if nothing had happened, and an awkward silence filled the room, the kind of awkward silence that made her think of elephants. She tried to remember the last time she'd seen one - probably only five or so years ago, at a zoo, but it felt like much more time had passed. The last year especially had felt much longer than most. Somehow she'd always managed to think things would get better. Wars had come and gone for all of human history, right? People banding together to combat climate change would be enough to actually stop it, right? At least that's what she'd assumed. People had been thinking the world was about to end ever since they were aware that it could end, but they'd always been wrong. Assuming otherwise would have meant being one of those crazy people who built fallout shelters under their houses and stockpiled decades' worth of dehydrated soup. She had a life here, a good life with another life in her belly. Her best mates were her neighbors, and her parents lived far enough away to not make a nuisance of themselves. She even liked her bloody job. She had everything she wanted - everything she wanted at the worst possible time. Permanent city evacuation's a bloody charm, right?

Oliver sat down on the couch and leaned in close. He looked at her expectantly, his green eyes fixed on hers as if he could draw the news out of her. Then they drifted down to her belly.

"So what are you thinking?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, I know you. I know you're already starting to make a plan, and I know that you do that my thinking out loud. I'm here as an ear..." He raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to acknowledge his rhyme."

Mary lifted her head from her hand. "We have thirty days' worth of clean water left..."

"That buys us some time,"

"But not enough; the government wants everyone out as soon as possible. At least they are giving us some time to make arrangements - I guess it's their way of pretending they still have any power and that they still care."

Oliver chuckled as if on cue. It was that forced kind of laugh that pretended things were normal. “Assuming they ever cared in the first place.”

"I don't know why they even bother- it's not like I can sell this place. 'For sale- condo in evacuated city, as is, perfect for all your post-apocalyptic role playing game needs. Just don't drink the water. Fire sale: everything must go.'" She smiled to herself, pleased by her factitiousness. "That's not even considering all my junk - I guess I'll have to leave everything behind."

Oliver leaned closer, "Which may not necessarily be a bad thing."

She let her eyes wander about the room - all her furniture, her artwork, her books, her clothes, all the brick-a-brac of a middle class existence. Oliver and his boyfriend easily had more: souvenirs from their travels, Oliver's antique record collection. If he was even mentioning leaving them behind... "So the real question is: What are YOU thinking?"

"Some of my co-workers... you'd really like them... have an idea, a bizarre, ridiculous, you know, the kind of idea that just might work."

"Does the university know something the rest of us don't?"

"No, but some of the girls at work, they think that Adelaide is only the second of many."

"I've had that thought. First Perth, which we all saw coming, but if here, of all places, where next? I guess we should have seen it coming too - here we are, flaunting our shiny, upgraded desalinisation plant. Who's got water woes? Not us, not here. Kaboom. So much for that."

"They, my co-workers I mean, have actually been prepping for a while. They bought a vineyard on the river, and they want to move there, go, 'off the grid," while there's still a grid to get off of."

"Are you saying we should do the same, buy a vineyard?" She scrunched her nose. He was a nice guy, her best mate and everything, but he could have some strange ideas. That was probably why they worked so well together: he stretched her out while she reigned him in."

"No way, that's ridiculous even for me, but the girls at work, they are actively looking for people to join them. They want to re-connect with the Earth, build a civilisation with gender equality from scratch..."

"Sing Kumbaya and do yoga?"

He laughed, a real, honest laugh. "That's not too far off, actually." Then he grew more serious, "But I know these girls, I guess I should say women, I know these women, some of them really well, and for what it's worth, I think they're on to something. I think you should at least talk to them."

"Olie, I don't know shit about growing grapes.”

"You don't have to. We have the botany chair."

"We?"

"Yeah, I'm going with them."

"What about Jeremy?"

"We broke up."

"Wow, I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well, don't be. He left this morning, and it's for the best. There's nothing like the apocalypse to show you who's got your back."

"And who does have your back?"

"You are my only social tie at the moment, other than the work girls.” He stood up and started pacing.

Mary kicked her feet up on the couch where he had just been sitting. She could tell one of his speeches was coming. He would work himself up about politics or religion or meaningful relationships and just pontificate. She counted down like she was watching a rocket launch - 3 - 2- 1-

"Fair warning, I'm about to over step my bounds, but..."

"I noticed."

"... If everything works out, and yes, I know that's a big if, I think that the vision my co-workers have for the future, is the future I want for our child. Look, this is my area. I trust your advice on legal shit. Please trust me on this. Whenever a civilisation starts to fall, and all that's left are sticks and stones, people are fight over those sticks, even though they are getting burnt at both ends. It’s people who are different, people like us who get the shortest sticks. Chances are pretty good, I think, that given the two of us, our baby will turn out to be something other than a cis-gendered, straight male. White is just about the only guarantee. That's why, and again, take it for what it's worth, if everything falls to shit, and you still decide to keep the baby, I think your best shot at giving that baby, not to mention yourself, a good life would be at that vineyard. At least think about it. At least talk with them. You'll love them, and they'll love you."

Mary narrowed her eyes and tightened her mouth. "Now wait a minute, I haven't even decided if I'm keeping the damn thing."

"I know."

"Right now, I'm working on how I'm going to keep myself alive, let alone someone else, and I'm running out of time." She looked down at herself, round like clock. "About a week til the law makes up my mind for me, if the law still counts for anything."

"I know you're going to think just as long and hard about keeping it as you did about making it in the first place. I know you put just as much thought into choosing me to be the father. I know how much you wanted this baby, how many times we tried, and I know the only reason you're doubting now is because the variables have changed. You don't do anything lightly - I know you. And that is why I'm overstepping my bounds, because I want you to have a few extra pieces of information when you do make a decision. I want you to know that I put as much thought and introspection into choosing you as you did choosing me. I wouldn't have jizzed in a cup for just anyone. I'm looking around at how fucked up the world has gotten, just like you are, and I see how much harder life is getting..." He stopped in front of her and pulled her to her feet. "And here's what I make of it: If there's one woman left in the world badass enough to be able to mother a child in it, that woman's you."

"Fuck," Mary swore as she looked away. "God, talk about pressure."

"I don't mean it that way."

"I know, I know. We just have shitty timing is all. You're right. I really do want this baby. That's why I can't just give you a big ol' hug and say, 'yes, I'll keep it.' I refuse to bring a person into this bloody mess that our world is becoming just because I want to be a mum. I have to make sure the baby could have a shot at a decent life. It doesn't matter how badass of a mum you think I'd be; I can only control so much. Inside me it's warm, it's wet, it's comfy - equipped with a private delivery service - a veritable paradise. But if she's born, assuming we even make it through birth, no matter what I do, she will suffer.

"She?"

"It's a girl. I don't know why I keep calling her an it. She's a she."

Oliver wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pressing her belly against his. "Hey there, daddy's little turkey baster baby. Op, she kicked."

Mary gave him an irritated look. "Of course she kicked; that's what they do."

"I promise I didn't time that to be manipulative." He laughed as she rolled her eyes. "But this..." He turned around and pressed his bum against her. "Is just me taking an opportunity to have some fun with my daughter while I can...You'd better practice, little girl. Here's a target. Ow, that's a good one - got some power there. The Vuvalini would love you."

She raised her eyebrows. "The Vulvalini?"

He turned to face her. "Vuvalini -That's what they're calling themselves."

"Uh-huh..."

He shrugged. "Radical Feminists.”

"How long do I have? I assume they'll try to get out before everyone else."

"A week."

"What do they need with an attorney?"

"What do they need with a queer studies professor? No one is well equipped for what's happening to us. They may not need a lawyer, but I doubt they'd say no to your lawyer brain. Look, if you decide to go with them, and they refuse you, I won't go with them either.”

"Baby or no baby?"

"Baby or no baby. I was serious with that BFF necklace.”

She smiled. “I'll talk to them. Just hook me up, but here's my price: if I do decide to go with them, you have to help me explain this hippie commune vineyard thing to my parents.”

 

Mary clutched her pocket as she ran for her car. She had to be certain the map was still there. Her hand felt the slick paper with its sharp crinkles, and she pictured it's large, friendly letters: Green Valley Vineyards. As long as she focused on that, she could shove her way to her car through the crowds of people who apparently thought nothing of hurting a pregnant lady.

She could hardly blame them. They'd all just seen an a burst into flames not five minutes after it left the ground. They'd all probably lost loved ones; her parents weren't the only people on that airplane. Was it terrorism? Was it negligence from the chaos? She wasn't waiting around long enough to find out. She didn't really know why she waited so long to go anyway; loyalty turned guilt run amok was her best guess. She should have gone with Oliver when he left weeks ago. She shouldn't have squatted in the guest bedroom of her parents' house on the coast while they made plans to leave the country, plans they thought would include her. She should have known, but she had to wait, wait for her cheques to clear as she emptied her accounts, wait until there was no hope left for this corner of the country, wait until there was no one left to miss her.

She cursed her own slowness as she ran through the churning chaos. She'd always been a fast runner until now, irritatingly, when she needed speed the most. But she glimpsed her car ahead, and so she thanked whomever might be listening for her priority parking and channeled her frustrations into her last few shoulder checks. 72 hours til animal, huh? More like 72 seconds.

She waited until she was close to unlock the car door. Even so, she had to kick arms and legs out of the way so she could force her body in and then slam the door behind her. She heard a yowl amongst the yelling and assumed she'd caught someone's finger. She'd know for certain when she opened it again, with any luck she'd be home by then, in her new home.

She had no time to catch her breath, no time to mourn the people she'd lost, no time to assess the damage, no time to pay her parking fee. She blew through the gate as she'd blown through the crowd. She felt like she was in one of those car movies as she zipped around traffic. She tossed her hair just for fun as she thought of all the fines she would never have to pay - if there was one good thing about societal collapse it was that she'd her whole profession had just become obsolete. She relished that freedom as she sped out of the city, out on the open road. All her trauma would catch up to her eventually, probably when she ran out of fuel, but for now she was running on delicious adrenaline. It was far more useful than sorrow anyway.

Sure enough, Mary did break down - once the highway had deteriorated from unfilled potholes to random precarious chunks of asphalt, and the bush stretched before her like a desicated corpse, sobs shook her chest. She fanged through her tears - there was no one left to hit. Here she was, in the bush with under a quarter tank. Bush- she wondered how much longer the term would be accurate; even the bushes were choking on the powdery soil. Kilometer by kilometer, everything turned to dust.

Her spinning wheels lifted it so it churned and tumbled around her. She drove on, windows rolled up to block out everything out, somehow believing it could swallow her but not consume her. She would emerge unharmed like a hero from a dragon, like Jonah from the whale; if she only kept going the dust would blow away, and there would be green. Her tears dried with time like everything else.

Chapter Text

History:

40 BRW (Before Road War): Perth became the first city in Australia to be permanently abandoned due to lack of potable water supply.
BRW 40 to BRW 38: A group of feminist university students and academics in Adelaide developed a plan to create a a feminist commune. Towards this end, the group purchased a winery in the Murray River Basin named Green Valley Vineyards.
38 BRW: An attack on their famed desalinisation plant left the city of Adelaide without a potable water supply. The city was evacuated without any plans for resettlement.
38 BRW: Furiosa was born. (She was 37 at the time of the Road War as there is no Year 0.)
20 BRW: Furiosa and Mary Jabassa were kidnapped. Mary was subsequently killed, and Furiosa was traded to a group of War Boys from The Citadel.
10 BRW: The Vuvalini permanently split from the Men’s Tribe and leave the Green Place after a decade a decreasing quality harvests.

Geography and Natural Resources:

The Green Place was situated along the Murray River, which by 38 BRW had ceased to become navigable and only showed running water seasonally. By 20 BRW, desertification in the area had caused soils to soften and erode around the river bed such that the delta spread further north and became a seasonal flood plain. The Great Diving Range still saw winter snow fall during this period and precipitation in the late fall and early spring. These rains and early spring snow melt caused the spring flooding. Often the natural river bed was so far under the new sediment that water appeared to be rising up from under ground.

The river bed and it's flood plain formed the core of Vuvalini territory, and crops it’s the highest water needs were farmed in the central area. Homes were built in concentric circles with doorways facing inward. Crops with lower water needs were farmed in rows outside the circles of houses. The vineyards, inter spaced with nut and fruit trees, were the next circle out. Beyond these, wild plants grew as the fertile area transitioned through desert eco-system to barren wasteland.

The disruption of seasonal water cycles caused denigration in water quality and reliability, as well as soil quality, such that by the time of the Road War, the Green Place had become a permanent bog with only slight season variations in water depth.

Calendar:

Imbolc, early August, was Vuvalini new year. It marked the beginning of the flood season, the return of warmer weather, and the return of the Men's Tribe from their winter grazing territory. Infants born during the previous year were named. Planting and other seasonal chores such as water harvesting began.
Spring Equinox, mid-late September, was Initiation night for new apprentices.
Beltane, late October - early November, marked the end of planting season and the departure of the Men's Tribe, also the first harvest for dual harvest and early harvest crops.
Summer Solstice, mid-late December, was coming of age and full initiation of male and female Vuvalini.
Mabon, early February, marked the return of the Men's Tribe and the beginning of the second and primary harvests.
Fall Equinox, mid-late March, celebrated the lessoning of the summer heat and the selection of those who had attained the rank of Mother/Father.
Samhain, late April - early May, the harvest was completed, and the Men's tribe took their flocks to find winter grazing territory. Also, the first wines of the season were drunk.
Winter Solstice, mid-late June, those who died during the previous year were celebrated.

Food and Beverages

Important crops:
Grapes - for fruit, leaves, wine
Rice
Grains, oats - Millet, Proso Millet, Emmer/Farro, Barley, Rye - breads - mostly flat, occasionally rising, clusters, beers, moonshine
Pulses - lentils, chickpeas (plus leaves)
Wattleseed/ acacia seed - made into flour
Figs
Dates
Peaches, nectarines, other stone fruit
Apples, esp. pink lady, esp. autumn - one of first crops to fail.
Tea tree - medicines, sticks used as tooth brushes
Linen - textiles
Hemp - seeds as food, textiles, oil
Sesame - seeds as food and oil
Mushrooms - esp. early spring

Animal Products and Livestock:
Snails - esp. early spring
Honey - for food and medicine
Camel - for milk, leather, and meat, esp. colder months.
Lamb, mutton - for milk/cheese/butter, wool/shearling, and meat esp. summer
Goat - for milk/cheese/butter, leather, hair, and meat esp. late spring, early summer

Wild plants:
Wild Radishes - oil for bio fuel
Native peach/ quandong nut - oil for bio fuel

Game animals:
Rabbit
Kangaroo
Goat - also domesticated
Camel - also domesticated

Milk was consumed fresh or fermented for longer term storage.

There was a preference for food items which could be dehydrated or otherwise preserved. Preservation methods included:
Dehydration
Pickling
Distilling
Fermenting
Curing
Burial
Water was stored in jugs on roofs and thereby purified by solar power. Water for immediate drinking was purified by boiling. Both types of water were sent through filtration system made from sand and gravel. These were made in both high volume and single serving sizes. Short term refrigeration could be achieved through evaporative cooling. Items were stored in specially shaped clay containers. Water was run over them, and they were cooled as the water evaporated.

Common dishes:
Various combinations of grains or rice with honey and nuts -- granola with milk
Salads - sometimes with meat
Nuts ground to a paste combined with honey, salt, and various other ingredients such as fruit, granola, etc.
Soups and stews made from broths, milks, meats, bloods, etc with vegetables and/or cheese added
Grape leaves stuffed with rice and various other fillings

Clothing and Body Modification

Clothing was primarily lightweight, natural materials such as cotton and linen. A typical outfit might have included linen, military-grade silk, or cotton broadcloth pants loose from the hips to the knees and either tapered or bound to the ankles, a lightweight undershirt and underpants in a knit cotton and/or linen, and a leather, canvas, or broadcloth jacket. On top of this, various handwraps, scarves, socks/footwraps etc. were worn according to the weather and activities. Animal fibers such as wool, or goat or camel hair were often used for blanket/shawl/cape combination garments and scarves, hats, and socks. Full skirts were worn over pants on cool nights, and more ornate versions were worn for ceremonial purposes. A lightweight knit duster/cardigan was worn as a sort of house coat in place of the jacket and sometimes also pants depending on weather; elaborate versions of this garment were also worn for ceremonial purposes. Leather was used for shoes, belts, bags, and other small items requiring sturdy materials.

The colour palette was mostly limited to shades of brown, cream, grey, green, black, and ochre-based warm reds, oranges, and dark yellows. Pure white and a wine-coloured purple were used in ceremonial garments only.

Old World garments were also worn while they lasted; most of the garments the original clan members brought with them match the above types but in brighter colors, with more complex prints, and some synthetic fibers blended into their materials. By RW, some of these original Old World garments remained, but they had been torn, faded, and repaired so much that they became virtually indistinguishable from the New World garments.