Mum Note: Yes, yes, tragic backstory. I know it is a trope, but this was one of my first EQ characters, and it very much suited her!
It was time, and then some, for her vision quest.
The light of full daylight greeted her as she settled herself crosslegged on the windy peak. Her fellow shamans of the north had said that vision quests such as the one she was about to perform could only be properly performed in their frozen Northern homeland. She knew better. Her heart -- and more importantly the spirits -- had told her that these windy peaks, birthplace to the fierce hill giants, was the best place for her particular quest.
Resolutely, she readied mind and body to pray, to sing, to dance ... to cry. The last would be the hardest. She'd cried only once since she left home as a young girl, and it was quite telling that it had been when she had participated in her first hill giant kill.
For a moment her mind floundered, trying to dredge up other times that she had cried. Surely she had let herself grieve at the many sorrows that had been heaped upon her; at the loss of Kavan, the loss of most of her clan, the bitter heartache of being alone at night because it was better to be alone than to be vulnerable.
There had been once but she discounted it immediately, as they'd been tears of rage, not pain. The time an elderly gnome had prevented her from suiciding against a hill giant when she learned of Kavan's death ... when she was young and foolish.
Now she was older but still foolish. All this time had passed, more than half her lifetime, and she'd never let anyone truly inside her self-made walls. Hugs, kisses on the cheek, and harmless flirtations had been all she'd allowed others ... and herself.
Her reverie was broken as she watched a cloud drift across a nearby mountaintop, seeming to brush a gentle kiss atop the craggy peak's "head" before drifting on it's way.
Shavanna's thoughts crystallized with painful clarity. She was that cloud -- drifting here, flirting there, teasingly touching down before dancing off once again.
**Touch no one, nobody touches you ...** The dry mental voice in her head belonged to her first teacher. A teacher that had died a century before Shavanna was born.
So. It had begun. Shavanna let her mind slip deeper into a trance-state, to remember, to learn, to hopefully heal.
She had started the flirtatious dance as a way to prove a point, but long after tragedy had struck (and that point had pierced her heart), it was a defensive maneuver. If she didn't open herself up, she couldn't be hurt, or so she'd thought. So, she danced from person to person, always keeping things light and flirtatious. Always making it a game.
Nobody tried to bridge that distance she kept anymore, except perhaps Unkle, on rare occasions, and even he was careful not to push too hard. Did he know how fragile was the soul underneath that hard shell? Did he realize the pain and grief that had been bottled up for so long?
She hadn't, hadn't allowed herself to until in one piercing moment, all her carefully created walls were torn down, leaving her with a grief that had not been faced in well over a decade ... since Kavan had died.
A sibilant voice skidded across her mind with a command from the spirits: **dance for himmmm**
Shavanna unfolded herself from the stony ground, stilled her mind, and began to dance the Stormfollower's Dance of Farewell, letting the spirits take her where they would: into her memories, into grief ... perhaps into healing as well.
Shavanna had been a precocious young child, ever-curious and outgoing. From the moment she'd been able to walk, the adults had started chuckling at her "making up" dances. When she began to talk, and said the spirits taught her to dance, the small clan's only shaman, -- a dried up old fellow who was jealous of his power -- had scoffed and called it the overeager imagination of a child.
Her parents had been mortified about "bothering" the shaman with their precocious child, punished her, and instructed her to never speak of it again.
But the spirits had been teaching the child dances. Dances of long-dead clans, of lost races, of the various people's of the world of Norrath. Through dance comes learning, and understanding, or so they told the curious young lass, though it would be a while before she knew what they meant. It was enough that they taught her, and didn't think her a liar, like her clan did. (Well, her half-brother believed her when he was old enough to know what she was talking about, but that's what little brothers were for. Besides, she told him she'd beat him up if he ever said anything about it, so of course he was going to nod and agree!)
When she was 6 summers old, her small clan, grown smaller due to the many dangers in the harsh northern climes, merged with another small clan that had been virtually wiped out by orc raids.
A younger shaman, Garinthwen, was part of this new clan, and he stepped up to become the tribe's shaman as their old shaman became too aged to impart his duties. Having heard rumors of Shavanna's claims, and having seen her dance, vainly did Garin try to talk with the young child, but she'd learned her lesson too well, and told him as pertly as a 6-year-old could, that she'd outgrown such childish fantasies.
Only with her new friend and now-clanmate, Kavanaladran, did she confide the truth. The 10-year-old son of Garin had also seen her dancing, and tried to tease her about it. In return, she launched into one of the more spectacular ogre war-dances ever created, quite boggling the young lad.
Standing slightly bow-legged, her entire stance making her seem somehow much larger and bulkier than a barbarian child of 6, she swung one arm then the other ponderously in front of her. Then she waggled her hips twice, shimmied her upper torso, and bumped hips with an imaginary being next to her. (It should be noted that during the current-time, the ample Shavanna gets a much different boggled reaction from all that shimmying and swaying than either an ogre, or a child of 6, elicits.) As she started these opening moves, she chanted: "Swing, swing, wiggle, wiggle, jiggle, bump! Ogres barsh an' ogres thump. Slice yur arm an' maek a stump!" With these and similar chants and moves, she dazzled the bloodthirsty young lad into temporary silence.
When she was done, Kavan begged to learn more "warrior dances" from her. The budding warrior-to-be and the young spiritdancer were fast friends ... once they got done calling each other childish names and such.
Mentally returning to the present, Shavanna finished off with a bump and grind that would have made an ogre drool, though whether he'd want her as dinner or ... dessert ... would be hard to decipher.
A second time the command came, this time from an old woman who had died during Shavanna's ninth summer. **Dance for himmmm**
With that command came the memories ...
When Shavanna reached her ninth summer, the time was fast drawing near for her to be apprenticed to a trade. While the way of the shaman appealed to her, she still feared it, feared the derision when once again she'd have to claim to learn from the spirits, and be scolded and punished for such claims. She'd run away before she'd let that happen again.
Before the day of decision could come, however, an event happened that would make the decision for her.
The clan had come across the summer hunting camp of a neighboring clan, and found it freshly demolished by a bandit attack. Bodies lay strewn everywhere, and anything that could not be carried off had been destroyed. The only survivor had been a badly-wounded elderly woman who had been left for dead. From the look on Garin's face, death would only be a matter of time, and not much of it at that.
The dying request of the old crone, as she lay balanced between the land of the living and the land of the spirits, was to see, one more time, her tribe's farewell dance, the dance that was meant to escort a spirit from one land into the next. The dead of her tribe called out to her from across the veil, clamoring for it. Garin had not the heart to tell the woman that there was none of her clan left alive to teach them the dance, but told her he would find a way, using his magics to strengthen her spirit's hold on life just a bit longer. Finally, he had a way to catch his elusive prey -- his desired student.
Quickly, Garin summoned Shavanna from her gathering duties, fixing her with a stern gaze that had made folks far stronger than a gangllng 9-year-old girl quail in their boots.
"We are under death-oath to the last survivor of the Stormfollower clan. I need you to perform their Farewell Dance for those that died, and the one that is dying."
Shavanna's eyes widened in surprise, then went momentarily unfocused as she sought her memories, and her teachers, for the proper dance. So distracted was she, that she did not see the small smile of triumph flit across Garin's face as his suspicions were confirmed. When Shavanna nodded her head in agreement with a mumured "Yes, sir" he allowed himself a small nod in return. The lass had been well-trained that the shaman's word was law.
"You have a half-candlemark to prepare. The old widow will not last much longer than that."
Shavanna's feet flew as if she had been granted the fleetness of a wolf pack as she ran for her family's hunting tent, and rummaged for a clean tunic. All the while, the spirits were there, in her head, teaching her what she needed to know.
Within the allotted half-candlemark, she was at Garin's tent, freshly scrubbed and garbed. Only the voices in her head kept her from panicking, granting her much-needed serenity. Perhaps it was the spirits that clouded her eyes, so she would not notice the slow gathering of her clan around the tent. Mayhaps it was the spirits that allowed her to see only the old woman, eyes clouding with pain, lying on a pile of furs on the ground, watching, waiting.
Shavanna bowed deeply and reverently to the old woman, and then launched herself into dance while a low keening drone came from her throat. Somewhere in the background she could hear a drum pick up the beat that she was stamping with her foot, and then a gourd rattle started in as well. She let those things slip from her conscious mind, recognizing only the rightness of it before focusing on the dance, whirling, twirling, stamping, swaying.
Garin stood to one side, watching and nodding to himself. He had been right. She did have some link to the spirits, and he was determined to demand her as his apprentice. He barely controlled a gasp, howevever, as his spirit sight let him see more. Quickly, the shaman cast a spell to allow those gathered to see what he could see, starting first with his son Kavan, then with Shavanna's parents, then with the other clanmates. Let them see for themselves what this young lass that they had scorned was truly doing and what company she kept.
Gasps followed his spell, although young Shavanna was unaware of them. As the dance progressed, the clearing around her and the old woman had been filling with the spirits of the Stormfollower clan, and they had been joining the young girl in the dance. Only long practice had allowed Niall, the drummer, and Ruadh, who'd been shaking the gourd, to continue with the beat as they and the others saw the clearing with new sight.
Heedless of her clan's reaction, Shavanna danced on, swaying in front of first one spirit, then another, bidding them a proper farewell. As the dance drew to a close, the spirit of an elderly man reached out to the old woman dying on the ground, and beckoned her to join him. Tears coursed down Shavanna's young cheeks at sight of the embracing spirits as they turned to give her a salute and then slowly disappeared.
The clearing was once again empty, but for a winded young girl-child, and the corpse of an old woman. Ringing the clearing were her clan-mates, with a new respect in their eyes for a young child that danced with the spirits.
Winded, the adult Shavanna brought the dance to a close, almost thinking for a brief moment that she had seen Kavan's shadowy form dancing beside her through part of the dance. Had it been the tears coursing down her cheeks that had made the shadows dance so, or had it been him? The spirits knew, but they weren't telling.
The command came a third time, from a long-dead gypsy druid. **Dance for himmmm**
Again, Shavanna began to dance, this time a gypsy courting dance, letting yet more memories flood through her mind ...
She had been in her 14th summer and her fifth year of shamanic training, when her world had started to go awry. Her friendship with Kavan had grown deeper, stronger, and was rapidly showing signs of romance -- at least on Shavanna's side. Kavan, a lusty warrior of 18 summers, seemed also interested in the young lass, but also seemed interested in pursuing other young women while waiting for Shavanna to mature a bit more.
Shavanna, however, thought she was mature enough, and had worked long and hard on learning and perfecting a gypsy courting dance. She meant to have Kavan, and she was a VERY determined young lass.
On Midsummer's night, her blossoming form garbed in flowing silks and colorful scarves, she followed him to a quiet stream, moonlight making the water glimmer magically like quicksilver. Wordlessly, she danced for him, putting a finger to her lips when he would have spoken.
Swaying and twirling, weaving a multihued mystery with the dance and the scarves, she was brought up short by the sight of a warrior lass, scantily dressed, slipping up behind Kavan. The woman's voice was velvety poison as she cooed to Kavan, intentionally letting her voice rise so that Shavanna could hear her. "Kavan, dear, surely you don't need a child like her trying to get you in the mood for our assignation, do you?"
Brokenhearted, Shavanna had turned and fled, ignoring Kavan's frantic calls for her to wait. By the time he'd disentangled himself from the female octopus, and tracked Shavanna, she was long-gone, leaving behind a mute message in front of Kavan and Gavin's hut. There, lying in the dirt, was a necklace that had been given to her as a sign of her apprenticeship, and a silver friendship ring given to her by Kavan.
Shavanna fled for many long days, bypassing the human lands and laying several false trails before stopping to rest in the small, misty thicket that the halflings called home. Little would she know that one of those false trails would cause such disaster.
Bringing the dance to a close, Shavanna was more certain now that she'd seen Kavan's spirit at the edge of her senses as she'd danced. Poor Kavan. Too late had she learned that he'd not been dallying with the warrior lass, despite her attempts to the contrary. Too late had she learned the true depths of his feelings, through the journal that had been found on his corpse.
Again, the spirits spoke, this time with the voice of Kavan's father, Shavanna's teacher, Gavin. This time the message was different. **Dance WITH himmm**
With tears streaming down her face so heavily that it partially obscured the tattooed woad on her cheeks, Shavanna reached for the ghostly hands that reached for her, and started a dance created by the spirits just for them. It was part recognition of a life-bond gone awry, part absolution, part farewell, part promise for the future ... and totally theirs.
Determined to try to appear that she wasn't bothered by Kavan's popularity with the women, the young Shavanna had begun flirting with every male she saw, from the local halflings, to the visting folk of other races that passed through the sleepy thicket from all over the lands. It became a challenge to prove that she wasn't a "child", but a young woman fully capable of attracting a male. Not that she did anything with them once she attracted them, but they didn't seem to mind the flirting games she played.
And so the months passed, as her wounded young pride and blossoming hormones were soothed by the admiration of the males around her. The longer she was away, the harder it was for her to return home, to swallow shame, and to apologize to folks for her stubborn, childish pride. Finally, she steeled her resolve to go home, only to be stopped by an unexpected new spirit trainer ... Gavin.
Gavin as a spirit trainer? But that meant he was ... dead?! Shavanna's mind reeled in numb horror, even as her spirit clamored a multitude of frantic apologies and questions. There had been an ice giant rampage on her clan's winter camp, and with both the clan's only other healer-shaman (her) and one of their better young warriors (Kavan), gone, the clan's battle with the giant had ended in tragedy.
Shame and despair had flooded through the young shamaness, to be replaced by cold horror. Kavan gone? Solemnly, Gavin's spirit had told her the grim news. Kavan had stayed in camp only long enough to collect his own gear, and then had followed after Shavanna. His remains had been found the following month, killed by hill giants after he had followed one of Shavanna's false trails.
She'd forcibly broken the connection with Gavin's spirit then, and ran, shame and fury lending her legs once again the fleetness of wolves. Hardly resting at all, she ran until she could run no more, then walked, then shambled, until she reached a known lair of the dreaded hill giants. Clenching a puny staff that she had made from a tree branch, she launched herself full tilt at the first hill giant she saw, screaming curses at the top of her lungs. She should have died. The wizard should not have interfered. But she didn't, and he did ... and he convinced her to live long enough to properly take on the hill giants and get her revenge.
From that point until now, she'd used the flirting aloofness as a way to actually keep folks from getting too close. Biding her time until she could find some form of absolution.
The dance ended, and Kavan reached ghostly fingers to caress her cheek one last time.
**Farewell, dear one. We shall not see each other again while you yet live. Do not despair though, or cut your time short, for there is much for you to do. Foremost, open up that large, well-shielded heart of yours. Find friendship, find love. Just because you cannot warm yourself in the blaze of our lifebond does not mean you cannot warm yourself by the hearthfires of others. Live enough, love enough, for both of us.**
With that, she was left alone on the mountaintop but for the crooning of the wind ... and her freely-flowing tears.
(Written by Hazid Wagglefingers, Gnomish Wizard, Retired)
Have you ever seen a woman so in tune with men that she has but to smile appreciatively at them, and they seem to trip over themselves blushing and giving her gifts?
Have you ever seen a righteous fury so strong and cold that witnesses fear they are going to suffer frostbite from it ... if not worse?
Have you ever seen a woman so casual about the profits from her hunts that half of them are given away to folks in need before she can even reach a merchant to sell them? Who will spend countless pieces of gold and even platinum devising quests for the young so that they can feel that they earned something instead of just having everything handed to them?
Have you ever seen such a bone-deep despair, that a young lass of 14 trainings would try to suicide against a hill giant armed only with a cracked staff?
I have, my friends, and much, much more, in the form of one woman, Shavanna Spiritdancer.
I remember when I first saw her, when she was a lass of but 9 trainings, running about Rivervale hunting, healing, laughing, teasing. I was an old gnome, even then, but her kind and giving nature touched me and I remember rummaging to find un-wanted loot in my packs as I saw her giving away items to folks more needy than her ... there was just something about her that spurred one to generosity.
The next time I saw the lass, she was in her 14th training, running full-tilt at a hill giant, screaming curses in her native tongue, wielding only a frail cracked staff. Well, there was no way I was going to let a lovely lass like that suicide -- especially one who'd kissed my bald pate in thanks when I'd given her those gifts on my first meeting with her. So, being the mighty wee wizard that I am, I killed the hill giant in his tracks. Oh, how quickly her despair turned into pure fury as she turned on me. For a moment, skilled elder that I was, I was truly in fear for my life. Then the battle-rage left her, and she crumpled in a curvaceous heap at my feet, sobbing about someone being lost to her forever.
In the intervening years, I've been told that it was the last time anyone ever saw her cry ...
I told her she was going about the revenge thing all wrong, handed her a glowing wooden crook that I'd been trying to sell just to make some space, and gave her a few quick lessons, telling her bracingly that a Shaman of Justice could oft wait many years to exact the proper judgement on those deserving of justice. Grim determination replaced the look of bleak despair in her eyes at that moment.
From that point until now, on the eve of my retirement from the wizardly arts, I've watched her, waiting, worrying. She's become the mistress of burying her true feelings, covering all with a flirting act that fools most, if not all. Not once in all that time has she given her heart. Rarely, if ever, have her flirtations lead to even single dalliances with a man. Either she has not found any worthy of her true affections, or she still grieves.
The mask is a good one, and ofttimes I forget she is anything but a lighthearted shamaness with a kind and flirty streak that is leagues wide. But every once in a while I see something in her eyes as she watches a hill giant stride by ... and I find myself feeling sorry for the unsuspecting hill giants. I want ringside seats when she comes into her full power and seeks them out.
Addendum from the deathbed ramblings of Hazid Wagglefingers
She came to visit me last week, that lovely barbarian lass. If only I was 200 years younger, and perhaps a bit taller, and ... tchah ... no sense worrying about all that piffle now, is there?
She looked lighter, happier ... at peace. The sort of peace few ever find in life. Whatever ghosts had haunted her, whatever grief had been in her past, she seems to have come to terms with it. She looks ... content. Mind you, I don't know if she's truly in love with this young erudite she went moon-eyed about or not, but he seems good for her. Reminds me of your grandmother Mariska and I, back about 300 years ago, that little happy glow. We were so in love ... Not like you young folks today, in love one moment, out of love the next.
Oh, the point to all this?
Find her, grandson, as a final wish to me. Ask her to dance for my spirit. She'll know what I mean.
Don't worry, Mariska, my love. I'll be along shortly.