Chapter Eleven – Void of Consciousness
A glowering face, Venerate Boann. She stared down. Weyd Ge’es smacked the back of his head– no…Khes’ head. She is just a youngling. Five, perhaps. He could see his– her tiny fingers holding the brush.
“Stop embarrassing me!” Weyd Ge’es barked with a jab of her bony finger at the mistaken writing. Khes dipped her brush in the inkwell and began another line of the Weyd text.
Boann sniffed, “Onr assured me the last one was of importance. Lihaan has yet to prove thus. This one… I should have ignored the simpering man and his vulgar blood-visions… killed her at birth.”
Weyd Ge’es nodded fervently, “I agree, Erahsan. It is dangerous to have such evil among the clan. You have had visions of your own.”
“I recall… the collector of souls, embodiment of Death. This girl-child’s shadow is a blanket of extinction.” Boann sneered, her aging lilac eyes reviled as they stare askance at the girl. “But if my visions are true, we could not have killed her if we tried. Any attempt to cull her would have brought harm upon the clan.”
Khes held out the reed mat again. The writings were correct. Weyd Ge’es grunted approval but Venerate Boann snatched it and glowered at the bottom characters. “Who taught you these?”
When she did not answer, Boann smacked her without mercy. As her nose bled, the girl was dragged into the Venerate’s Pandal as Ge’es was sent for both Lihaan and the Onr boy.
Standing naked and cold in a row of other children, Khes looked down at her dark grey body and prepubescent penis. Confused, she blinked as the boy next to her whimpered, “Atirian… I don’t want to go.”
Reaching over she– he took the boy’s hand and squeezed it. They were both–
“Oldest is twelve. Not one here close to their quarter yet. I know how your clientele’s particular.”
The man walking the line grunted and surveyed each child in turn. Checked their teeth, looked at their hair for lice, inspected their hands for callouses.
“How much for the ‘Valis and that Calhalla boy there?”
The boy Atirian comforted let out a terrified wail and tried to hide behind Atirian. The Shae men both growled in anger. Their Master reached for the child, his cane ready to beat him. Atirian turned and hugged him close. Both disappeared and reappeared in an alleyway across the square. Collapsing, Atirian fell on top of the boy. He was silent and wasn’t moving.
“Hans? Hans…?” He pressed an ear to his chest, fingers under his nose. Hans was dead. Atirian drew his knees up and sobbed. How they came to be in the alley, he did not understand. Somehow he knew it was his doing and Hans was dead for it, which made him a killer.
“There he is!”
Clamping his eyes shut, the boy wished himself away again, anywhere. Hands grabbed him and he screamed.
“Shut up, prat. Want to get us killed?” The older Calhalla boy clamped a hand over his mouth and pulled him further into the alcove. “Where’d you come from anyway? Where’s your clothes?”
The youth poked his head up then sighed. “Kustos are gone. How the tello did you just appear out of thin air in the middle of the Warden’s Temple?”
The bronzy-green youth smirked, “you had the nutsack to pop right in front of a row of praying Church Wardens, idiot. If I hadn’t already been robbing the almsbox, they’d have killed you for sure. The Kustos are not exactly forgiving of filthy Erahs desecrating their Omíkh temple.” His smirk curled into a devious grin. “’specially not naked ones.” He tapped his brow. “I’m Pelleas.”
Pelleas nudged the younger boy’s thigh, “follow me, kid. We’ll find you some clothes and food… then I’ll show you where me and the others sleep. Least when we ain’t robbing these stupid tello-lops.”
Sun illuminated the windowsill and the small table. Cast across the smooth wood was an elongated grid, the shadow of the bird cage sitting open. Atirian stood beside the table holding the pheasant in Khes’ hands. He stared into its face as it bucked, trying to free its wings. The young girl’s heart was pounding and he understood what he beheld, what she felt.
“Shh…” the girl inclined her head. “I will be quick.”
Drawing a deep breath, the girl closed her eyes, clutched the bird to her chest. Held tight beneath one arm, she brought her other hand behind its head and gripped the neck. A tear slid down her cheek as her hand trembled and the bird let out a cry. Bottom lip quaking, tugging into a deep pout at the corners, the child turned her head to the side with a stifled sob. She jerked as hard as she could. The cawing choked to silence. She released her sob as its body kicked and attempted to flap its wings at her for a moment before the nerve impulses died.
A jolt of cold slammed into her then, as if Revas had leapt from the door and thrown river water on her. Khes dropped the bird collapsing to her knees. Bent over the carcass, she inhaled a revitalizing breath, crisp as winds from the iceland of Albedo. Gasping,her body quivered with static energy she never felt before. The girl scrambled back from the animal.
The door opened. Lihaan’s form filled the door frame. Khes’ eyes gaped up at her in terror. What had she done? She had done something terrible. She could feel it. She had committed some terrible evil. The evil the Venerate always spoke of. She was Death. This Pheasant was not dinner. It was her victim. She was evil. EVIL.
Bolting to her feet, Khes ran from the yurt, ran from the holt, ran into the Pine Barrens. She just ran. When Lihaan finally caught up to her, the woman collapsed to the ground, tackling her ten-year-old child. The sobs were overwhelming the child’s Elhia, a barrage of raw emotion, an amalgam of terror, guilt and misery. In spite of those she spoke, Lihaan did not need words. With all she sent, Mother imbued child with a flood of love and acceptance.
~Shh, you are not evil, child. You are like your mother. You are a Blade-Spirit. Shh, be calm… let me explain… you did nothing wrong…~
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