My contribution to the blogfest Andrew Rosenberg is hosting at his blog. Check out the other entries.
Note: This is part of the opening sequence of my novel Eternal Spring. Might be a little different from some of the other entries, but I still think it qualifies. Especially since I know the character. :-) It's long, and for that I do apologize, but it was hard to find the right beginning point.
As always, mature content.
She trudged through the accumulation past the residential tents, heading for the crest of the hill they'd made camp around in a ring. The fire beckoned her, considerably larger than it had been when she left. Several people stood around the fire while others shouted orders. Two men struggled up the hill against the ice, carrying a long black box between them.
“There you are,” a familiar voice said from behind her. “You're almost late.” She glanced back.
“Where did you come from?”
Jason grinned. “Trade secret. How was your nap? Feel better?”
“Yeah. Thanks.” She stopped and waited for him to catch up, shivering as another gust of wind hit. “I see you finally got your coat.”
He plucked at the sleeve of the thigh-length duster, identical to hers. “Didn't want to get my clothes dirty.”
She tried to muster a smile, but it didn't quite come out. Jason's bare hand grabbed her arm, and he leaned in close, the tip of his nose freezing her ear while he whispered.
“Get your game face on, Kin. Your sunny disposition is decidedly lacking today.”
She closed her eyes. He was right. Of course. But it wasn't as easy for her to wake up every day and pretend to be one of the enemy. Lately the line between reality and actuality was blurring so far out of focus that it disappeared.
Kinnasy opened her eyes and smiled at Jason, forcing sincerity into it. Faking wasn't hard with him. At least not faking this.
His hand dropped away from her arm, and they walked to the top of the hill in silence, feet moving in tandem. The woman's head slumped forward, hair matted with blood. Kinnasy could see frays in the ropes that bound her hands and feet, scorches on the wooden post her bare back had been strapped against. She'd fought hard, by the looks of it, but in the end they had won. They always did.
She didn't want to get any closer, and it had nothing to do with her cover. Burned flesh stank, and it looked like Haakon and Elin had inscribed every sigil they knew into the woman's blue-tinged flesh.
“Now that both our Nox have deigned to join us, we can continue.” That thin, arch voice raised Kinnasy's hackles every time she heard it, made her want to grab Elin by the throat and rip out the offending vocal chords. She didn't give a fuck what god's son he was.
So she smiled at him and took her place beside Jason without comment.
Haakon and Elin moved forward together, identical except for the color of their long, woolen robes. Flecks of blood spattered Elin's long blond hair and dotted that perfectly sculpted, cruelly handsome face. He liked to wield the knife and brand himself, get nicely acquainted with the subject. Haakon contributed from the sidelines, though with no less fervor. Kinnasy could see it in his eyes even now, crystal blue chips glowing molten as his brother and fellow godsson unsheathed a knife.
She recognized it and shifted from foot to foot. Easily the length of her forearm, the knife was one of the Lux relics that had survived the fallout. Cast in bronze and inlaid with silver, it sparkled in the firelight as Elin hefted it. The knife had some name that dated back to its Grecian origins, but most everyone called it the Kinslayer.
Elin ran his finger across the blade edge. Blood welled up and smeared the bronze. Kinnasy sucked in her breath as the air around the knife shimmered, then all the runes and sigils inlaid on the bronze blade glowed to life.
Beside her, Jason scuffed his foot on the ground, then uncrossed and recrossed his arms. She could feel the knife's presence humming through the air, and while she would swear it was nothing more than a weapon, at times like this it seemed to take on just a hint of sentience. And that sentience had acquired a taste for her and Jason.
“Bring forth the vessel,” Elin commanded, voice ripening as the Kinslayer tapped into his well of power. A Nox man stepped forward and knelt in the snow, singly holding up the long, thin box she'd seen the men carrying up earlier. Haakon approached the Nox male, let his long fingernails drag across his bare shoulders before settling both pale hands on the box.
“Father Apollo, hear mine words and open thy heart to those things which we desire,” he began, closing his eyes. Kinnasy bit the inside of her lip as he continued the invocation. Chills raced down her spine as the Kinslayer flashed.
“I call thee, who dwells in the dawn, heed the cry of thy sacred children,” he continued, voice leveling into monotone. His fingers curled beneath the box's lid, and he threw it open with vigor. Across from him, Elin approached the woman tied to the stake. Holding the knife like an artist's brush, he pressed its razor tip between the woman's breasts and began to carve as Haakon's words carried over the camp.
“Walk among this land once more and spill thy seed of eternal spring,” he cried, and reached into the box. Kinnasy inhaled deeply, embracing the bitterness of ash and blood as the godsson sang out his prayer. The woman on the stake swam to consciousness in time to see Elin drag the knife in a swoop across her belly. She screamed, drowning out Haakon's words, but he didn't stop, lifting the pale, naked body out of the box. He clutched the body to his chest like a mother protecting her young, then gently lay it down on the snow. Kinnasy could see the ugly gash across the white throat, a gaping, hungry maw.
“By Nott's blood, I call thee, not that thou might be angry at my sacred chants, but that thou might stir and cleanse the darkness from this land with thy holy light!”
Elin carved the sigil's finial at the woman's throat with a flourish, then closed his eyes and threw his head back as blinding light burst from the woman's body. Kinnasy felt her pulse pounding in her throat, realized that she was leaning forward, waiting with the rest of them. Was this it? Would this be the one?
The light wavered, then burst into a million specks of dust.
Murmurs swept through the crowd. Kinnasy heard Jason sigh.
The godssons launched into action, Elin kneeling beside the body in the snow and carefully carving the twin sigil that had just ended the woman's life, this time with light pressure and care. No blood welled from the grooves, just soft underbelly splitting apart. Haakon knelt beside his brother, palms outstretched to the sky, lips moving rapidly.
She looked at Jason out of the corner of her eye, saw that he too was looking elsewhere. He sighed again, put his hands in his pockets. They had a break coming up soon, next week. Just a few days away from the godssons and the sacrificing and the lingering smell of burnt flesh, but lately it was all she could think about, all she worked towards.
When she looked back at the godssons, Elin had taken off his outer robe and was now covering the awakened female with it. She grasped the edges and bound them around her nakedness, eyes large, but still slightly unfocused.
“We're up,” Kinnasy said, elbowing Jason. She walked forward quickly, careful not to slip on any of the blood-slicked snow, and squatted in front of the female. The female looked at her, eyes bloodshot, tears overspilling down pale cheeks.
“Where am I?” The female's voice sounded harsh, gravelly. Already the gaping gash across her throat was fading away, now just a jagged white line. Kinnasy took her right hand out of her pocket and grabbed the female's face, spreading her fingers to cover from temple to temple.
The female reached up to fight away Kinnasy's arm, but Jason appeared behind her and intercepted the fragile limbs, twisting them neatly behind her back. She started moaning.
“Are you ready?” Kinnasy asked him, ignoring the female's attempts to communicate. He nodded.
She met the female's gaze.
“Your name is Elana Gotrich. You are human. You were attacked by a group of remnants and barely escaped. You sustained mild amnesia.”
The female's eyes rolled back in her head. She began trembling. Kinnasy paused, then probed the female mind. It felt supple, open, willing, even, for her suggestion.
“Your name is Elana Gotrich.”
“What is your name?” Jason asked, speaking directly into her ear. The trembling subsided.
“Elana Gotrich.” The female sounded confident, despite her still-healing vocal folds. Jason nodded, then released her arms and reached into his jacket. The female sat still, no longer trying to fight away Kinnasy's grip. Jason handed Kinnasy a sheet of paper. She skimmed over it, then set it in her lap and refocused her attention on the human.
“You are from Area 3. Your family died during the '78 riots. You work at the transit station.”
She recited the information pre-selected to program into this vessel's brain, distantly aware of the Nox men untying the Lux woman's body from the stake. They carried her to the box and laid her inside, then shut the lid.
Jason took over, questioning the female on the information Kinnasy had just implanted, and though she should have been listening to the female's responses, an approaching figure stole her concentration.
Tall, willowy, long blond hair caressing her body in the icy wind, protected by heavy black robes. Even from this distance, Kinnasy could see the tattoos swirling across golden skin.
Her eyes darted to Jason, who was full engrossed in the female's Displacement. He didn't see the robed woman approaching, too wrapped up in his work to sense her presence. Kinnasy fought the urge to speak, to break the spell they were so carefully binding through this human—Elana Gotrich's—mind and spirit, to warn him of the woman's imminent arrival.
But she couldn't blow their cover. Her tongue felt like a chunk of lead in a suddenly dry mouth as the woman sidled up to them, her perfectly-formed face clearly visible now, down to the tiniest curlicue on her tattoos.
Her hand slid across Jason's shoulders, red-lacquered fingernails digging into his jacket's thick material.
Kinnasy wanted to vomit, wanted to lay her hands on the woman's face and see who would be most powerful in the end: light or darkness.
Jason's gaze flicked up to hers, deep amber glinting orange in the firelight.
“Come to my tent,” the woman said.
Though she lacked their ability to force word into action, Cleric Griet Overgaard's voice still resonated through Kinnasy's body and mind, shivering pure raw power down her spine. Jason released the human female and stood up.
“Elin wishes your presence when you're finished, Wilder,” the Cleric said, then slipped her arm around Jason's waist.
“Yes, Cleric,” she said, averting her eyes.
“Yes, Cleric,” the human mimicked. Fuck, too strong a presence in her mind. The Cleric's untimely arrivals always unnerved Kinnasy.
“Come,” Cleric Overgaard whispered to Jason, and Kinnasy watched with furrowed brow while the leader of the Lux Cipher Order led away her lover.