Kindred Spirit Lodge Presents
Heron's Fan Fiction
A curse, a hope, and time to make it right, or time to end it. © 2001 HeronW@aol.com
Once upon a time, the world was flat, I was called by another name, and there were no monsters.
“You’re determined aren’t you?” Majal asked, already knowing her niece’s mind.
“The world is more than this island, dear Aunt.” Navia replied with the fearlessness of youth and inexperience. “I want to learn more than this provincial bit of land offers. I know my inheritance becomes available upon my twentieth birthday. Today. Even without it, I will make my own way if I have to.”
Majal hugged the tall figure and looked into the hazel eyes. Gold and brown and green and 99 shades of stubborn just like her mother. “I’ve given you all I can, education, sword and bow training -- and don’t think I haven’t heard you repeating curses you learned from Rhohas!” She laughed as Navia grinned sheepishly.
“Well, he was a sailor before he became your watchman. He did teach me not to curse while swimming. Keep the sea out of my mouth,” Navia nodded in mock-seriousness. “I know you’ll take good care of each other,” she added softly.
Majal raised an eyebrow, “You know? Of course you do. He’s a good man, even with his ‘creative’ expressions. Send word every now and again, won’t you?”
“Yes, dear Aunt. And visit you and tell you stories and trade outrageous oaths with Rhohas,” Navia hugged her aunt. “My ship sails with the evening tide.”
“Then you will go with a full stomach, at least. And my blessing,” Majal said.
The voyage took a fortnight to arrive at the port of Khafa. Navia loved the sea but after weaving and bobbing for so long, dry stable land was a welcome relief. The tall figure with close-cropped auburn hair was not particularly out of place in this trading city. Pale-eyed, pale-haired mercenaries argued over melons and smoked lamb the same as the ebon-skinned nomads who lead their tasseled camels through the streets.
Navia did notice the deference given to an unassuming ordinary-looking grey-robed man with a cart and pony. He pointed to items in booths and they were passed over without payment or the least bargaining. She turned back to give coins for the sausages and then adjusted her pack.
“Argh!” Navia turned to see a blue fist raised and lowered at her as the grey man scowled and abruptly turned away.
“Priest of Sha-Jhia,” the sausage merchant explained in a low voice. “Just as well stay out of their way. They only love their god. They take what they want and leave us alone. You leave them alone too.” Navia nodded and bit into her dinner.
She stayed the first night at a small inn. Sleeping under the stars would save money; besides, Navia didn’t come so far just to be pampered by city life.
The second day clouded up and the wind seemed to take peculiar care to blow about then die down for a bit, then blow harder. By sunset it was unusually cool, even under the forest canopy. Navia had thrown on her cloak and was looking for a heavy windfall or small cave when the skies burst and fell, drenching her in a few heartbeats. She saw no place to shelter until she literally stumbled on a great gate before her. She pounded on the thick planks, half a mind wondering if anyone heard her through the drumming rain.
A small portal opened in the great gates, and a voice called, “Welcome traveler, to the House of the Living God.” Navia ducked in, dripping on the flagstones and looked at her host who closed the door behind her.
“Thank you for letting me in--“ she pushed back her hood.
“You’re a woman! This is a house of priests!” The middle-aged fellow was clearly taken aback, he was the grey man from the marketplace. “Well, there’s no help for it now. Come. There’s a small room off the kitchen where you can get stay.” He tapped his finger against his close trimmed beard. She saw that his hands were blue because they were covered with intricate tattoos to the wrists.
“I don’t wish to cause any trouble…” Navia was halfway ready to leave.
“The laws of hospitality are older than priest law. The brothers are otherwise occupied. Weather permitting, you will leave at dawn with no harm done.” He nodded more to himself than to her, “Come,” with a swirl of grey robes he turned and led Navia to a room for the night.
A pallet covered in sheepskins lay in one corner; the fire pit held kindling which the gatekeeper lit. He pulled some blankets from a small chest for Navia to dry herself with, and left. Moments later he was back with a tray of bread, cheese, cold sliced meat and a flagon of water. After setting it on a small table he looked at her drying her hair by the flames. She rose, suddenly aware of the way the damp blanket clung to her body. She pulled it close.
“May the blessing of the Living God, Sha-Jhia, be on you.”
“Thank you, for all you’ve done.” As the priest left Navia thought she saw something move about his neck under his beard. She closed and latched the door behind him.
She was dry by the time she finished eating. Once under the blanket she fell asleep quickly. She felt safe in this house of worship.
Navia awoke in the belly of the night with a hand on her inner thigh. She smashed upward with her fists while driving her knee into what she hoped was a vulnerable area. A male’s voice cried out as he stumbled backward over her pack and fell into the burnt-down fire pit. The girl heard a sickening crunch as his head hit the stone. Voices rose outside her door and the latch was snapped as the door burst inward.
Two uniform guards with drawn swords and lanterns were followed closely by three more priests.
“He tried to rape me--“ Navia looked closer and saw it was the gatekeeper. A piece of her blanket was still in his hand. Blood pooled slowly from under his head. He would answer no more doors.
“You killed a holy man,” said a tall priest in a robe edged with gold. His malevolent voice sent an icy dagger down her spine. “You shall take his place with our God, Sha-Jhia.”
The guards laid hands upon Navia, dragging her naked, following the high priest to an inner chamber deep within the temple. Nothing she said made a difference to either guards or priests. The two lesser priests went to a cabinet and removed two low wide boxes of some dark wood. One box was larger with leather sides.
“What our Brother wore as honor you shall wear in shame. Hold her,” the high priest commanded. Navia was strong, but the burly guard behind her had his arm across her throat, cutting off her wind. Two other guards held out her hands close together. The smaller box was opened to reveal grooved impressions at top and bottom in the shape of hands. Her hands were forced into that smaller box which was fastened tight about her wrists. The high priest waved over another brother with the second larger box. It was opened and again Navia saw a pattern of hands but these were made of fine needles at both top and bottom. It was then she noticed minute holes in the box that encased her hands. The second box was closed over the first.
She had no words but formless shrieks that were torn out of her. At a signal from the high priest, the outer box was removed. The inner box was opened. From the wrists down her hands were covered in intricate blue arabesques that gradually turned red as her blood oozed out of the many, many tiny wounds.
“Let me go, please let me go!” Navia begged as her hands throbbed, visibly swelling.
“She has committed sacrilege by killing a holy Brother!” The high priest announced. Navia didn’t notice ‘til now that the chamber had silently filled with a throng of grey-robed priests.
“SACRILEGE” they shouted back in one voice.
“At dawn she will meet our Living God, Sha-Jhia. But before that she must be punished for her crime!”
“PUNISHED!” roared the assembly.
“One stroke for each brother in this fellowship! Twice fifty lashes!” Navia was pulled to a post set in the center of the room. Her wrists were manacled over her head. The guards uncoiled their whips and began their task.
She cried out at the seventh stroke for that over laid flesh already raw. She stopped screaming when her voice failed but that was long before they were finished. Navia lost count and lived for that split second between contact. Somewhere she was dimly aware of the blood trickling down her legs.
“Take her to our Lord Sha-Jhia,” ordered the high priest. The shackles were undone and Navia was dragged to a cell and flung down on the filthy straw. She heard locks rattle into place. The wan light of early morning that hesitantly shone through the single slit window gave poor illumination of the chamber. Chains clanked heavily as a gate in the far side was raised. A heavy rasping sound came nearer and nearer.
Navia raised her and saw their god. A man, who a thousand years ago gave up his humanity to become a massive serpent. Five times her height, thicker than a large wine cask, his layered, impenetrable scales scored the granite blocks that made up the floor and sides of the cell. His face was still that of a man but horribly distorted. The eyes were enlarged red orbs set wide, the nose flattened and the mouth so wide it stretched back under each ear.
She tried to rise with some desperate little strength; a thick coil knocked her on her back and pinned down by her legs as he opened his mouth. Two fangs the length of her hand unfolded from his upper palate. Navia barely had time to gasp for breath when the fangs sliced into her breast piercing her heart.
The venom was a terrible cold chilling her soul, spreading outwards to her limbs. The heavily scaled body pressed down on her suffocating her. Navia’s body jerked as the fangs delivered more and more toxin within her system. Finally the serpent god’s fangs withdrew and he left her to die.
She saw something small come across the floor--a small dark red snake that stopped at the edge of the blood that flowed sluggishly from the wounds in her breast. The serpent’s tongue flickered as she tasted it, then she coiled up beneath Navia’s chin before the girl passed out.
Over the next six days water was trickled into her mouth and small bits of food was placed between her lips. Every time Navia woke up, she thought it would be her last. She thought she heard the door of the cell being unlocked.
“Get her out of there, if she’s not dead yet -- kill her.” Navia felt the tip of a sword slip under her ribs as she opened her eyes and looked up.
“God’s teeth!” yelled the guard above her as he withdrew his sword, ”Call the priests! She’s been Chosen!” Navia felt a narrow satin body coiled snugly about her throat as they gently carried her out of the cell.
The high priest was livid at the sight of the interloper alive after so much, but he could not go against a thousand years of doctrine. He set Navia up at the most expensive inn in Khafa, with a woman to care for her until she recovered.
Since then, my serpent and I have learned much from each other. I love her and in the manner of her kind she returns the sentiment.
Once upon a time when the world was flat, I was called by another name, and I discovered monsters.
Once upon a time humans were the image of gods, then the gods changed.
It had been three weeks since the incident at the temple of the Serpent God, Sha-Jhia. Navia was staying at the Red Dog Inn, recuperating. Her back was deeply scarred but she could move now without too much discomfort. She would carry the marks to her death.
The small snake had been her constant companion during her convalescence. She stayed coiled around Navia’s throat day and night. The woman’s dreams were strange as if she were two people speaking with each other, less speech than the impression of speech. After several nights, she realized these dreams were from the serpent. She was trying to communicate with Navia.
The frustration built until early one evening as Navia watched the sunset glaze the white towers of Khafa with coral and rose -- the serpent struck. The young woman cried out more in surprise than pain. She staggered and caught sight of her reflection in a mirror. A deep blue flush spread downward from her throat, where the snake’s fangs worked in the artery.
**I am your Guardian, Krait.** The snake spoke in her mind. **The Serpent God’s poison almost killed you. My venom can resist his, but you will change.** Krait withdrew her fangs from Navia’s flesh. The blue stain faded. The snake came down her arm and held her head over her hand disgorging two hard almond-sized blue drops. **Tears of the Night. Save them.** Navia placed them inside a soft leather pouch that Krait stayed in sometimes.
Dunaziah came in with her dinner on a tray as usual. Navia was restless with a hunger food could not assuage. The servant was young, maybe eighteen. Her slight build made her seem even younger. Her graceful limbs made a mockery of the coarse rags she wore. Her hair was a dark waterfall framing her lovely face. Navia’s breath caught when their eyes met. Hers were hazel as were Navia’s, yet motes of gold in hers caught the torchlight.
It was Dunaziah who was hired to take care of her when the priests brought her into Khafa. Despite her fear of Krait, Dunaziah stayed. Her gentle hands were the only touch Navia could bear on her torn flesh. She soothed the raw stripes with a cooling salve. The servant fed her, washed her, took care of her every need when Navia could barely move. She slept on a pallet by her bed in case she required anything during the night. It was Dunaziah who applied the herb-soaked cloths to draw out the infection when the two wounds on Navia’s breast grew inflamed. It was Dunaziah who cradled her head when she awoke screaming from nightmares. She held the wounded woman when she wept and moaned in a fevered state. Navia loved the girl for her selfless compassion, now she loved her for herself.
The servant did not know who had treated Navia so badly. She only told her that they were above the laws of Khafa. Dunaziah shook her head, wanting retribution for the mutilation she had suffered. The taller woman discovered that Dunaziah’s family had died of the plague a year ago. Since then, she had hired out at different inns, trying to keep away from the life of a back room girl. Despite her low circumstances, she had a quiet dignity, a serenity and joyfulness that Navia would hate to see her lose to grasping hands and grunting bodies paying for her degradation.
Navia had gone out earlier that day to book passage on a caravan going east. She bought some supplies, and a roan mare to carry her. Her few possessions were in a pack lying in the corner, ready for her departure at dawn.
“Can you stay tonight, Dunaziah?” Navia asked her, as she put the tray down. The older woman placed twenty silver coins on the tray. She knew the servant didn’t make that much money in six months.
“The priest paid me to take care of you, Mistress. There’s no need for that.”
“They paid for your hands, your heart you gave freely. I just want to help you get away from this place. To a village where you can stay with relatives, with people who care about you.” Navia’s hand brushed a lock of hair off Dunaziah’s forehead.
“And what about you?” She stepped closer. Her head fit under the taller woman’s chin. ”You are all alone, wandering. Will your snake make sure you eat enough? Can she mend your robes? I want to go with you…” She reached out and lightly brushed the upper scar over Navia’s heart.
“Are you sure Dunaziah? I can’t promise you anything--“
“If you are there, that is enough for me.” She stretched up and kissed Navia. The older woman let Krait down to the tray then untied the laces of the girl’s blouse. She eased the robe off Navia’s shoulders then slipped out of her own clothes as they made their way to the bed.
Hands and lips played with each other’s flesh; Navia’s back was still tender so they lay side by side. The girl was the first to cry out in the taller woman’s arms as pleasure shook her small frame. They rested for a few moments then she began to return the favor. Navia felt thunder building up inside of her as she moved to the delicate insistent touches. She closed her eyes tightly as the girl kissed her lips over and over when the waves crashed through her.
Navia opened her eyes. The world had changed -- she saw everything in the room in shades of red. She cried out not in ecstasy but pain as she felt sudden pressure in her upper jaw. Gingerly she probed with her tongue as fangs descended. She began to shake violently. She held tight to Dunaziah.
“Shhh…It’s all right…” The girl whispered in her ear, thinking she was just overwhelmed with passion. Navia lifted the dark hair off Dunaziah’s throat and scented the life-giving liquid that flowed just beneath the surface. She put her lips to the soft skin, feeling the strong pulse, sensing the hundreds of subtle vibrations of the red tides throughout her body. She tore through the tender flesh and drank the sweet salty blood.
Dunaziah moaned and tried to get out of her embrace but Navia’s might was greater than the girl’s. She began to stimulate her with her free hand tasting her fear and the excitement she could not withhold. Emotions warred within her small frame and the driven woman supped at the flavor of each one. Now she moved in rhythm with Navia’s touch. She pulled away briefly to see the girl’s face as she reached the pinnacle. Her breath came in shallow gasps, tears slipped from under closed lids. Still the red vision clouded Navia’s eyes. She fastened onto the girl once more, riding the rippling shudders as Dunaziah fell into stillness beneath her.
Navia was satisfied. She wiped her mouth and saw blood on her hand. That was the only red she saw.
**No, no!** She was aware of a small voice yelling in her mind. **Too much! You did not have to take so much!** Krait coiled rapidly upon herself, agitated.
“Dunaziah?” Navia’s voice sounded loud in the emptiness. Her hand trembled as she reached out to touch the girl’s breast. She felt no heartbeat, her skin was cool, her staring eyes asked the question Navia could never answer.
“What have I done? Krait!” She turned to the dark red snake. Tears covered her face. “Why didn’t you tell me to stop?”
**You could not hear me over the rage of passion. I am sorry.**
“How many more will I kill in love? Five? Twenty? A hundred?” Navia took out her dagger from her pack and knelt by the bed. “Never…Never again…” She pressed the tip under her heart and grasped the handle with both hands.
**That will not stop the pain,** said the serpent.
Navia drove the point upwards. It was cold. Cold as the poison from the serpent god. Cold as the lips that so recently kissed hers. Cold as the death that would not take her. Her blood gushed over her hands as she pulled out the blade. The flow grew less and less, then stopped altogether.
“So I am cursed to live forever with my pain?” The dagger fell from her red wet hands.
**The venom of the God may kill you in time or drive you mad. My venom and the blood you drink will postpone it. Beheading and fire could kill you. Be careful whom you love.**
Navia wiped the blood from her hands, “Forgive me, Dunaziah.” She closed the girl’s eyes and drew the blanket up to cover her.
Navia left the inn two hours before dawn. She took the supplies and the roan and headed west. She was alone. She was a monster and a coward. And worst of all, she was a murderer.
The circumstances of fate that give birth to what we become never do care what happens to us after.
A simple covering of nacre turns a grain of sand into a treasure. If there is only nakedness, is there worth?
It had been nearly eight months since Navia left the city of Khafa. She had traded the horse for extra water skins, dried food, and a sand tent. This desert spread out for thousands of leagues in all directions. She had to be alone; she even changed her name to Heron, she would have neither family nor clan. She was not fit for human company.
The oasis Heron stopped at was small but deep, judging from the way the lush vegetation grew about its circumference. These places were sanctuary to all; no enmity or feuds could follow here. They were the pearls that held the slender necklace of life together in this wilderness. The water was cool and sweet. The penalty for despoiling such a vital resource was harsh; the offender was staked out for the sun and the vultures.
The woman was dozing when Krait woke her, ** A person comes. ** Heron stood and watched a lone figure leading a horse come into the shade.
“May your Gods watch over you,” said a deep voice in a pleasing timbre.
“And may your Gods guide your footsteps,” Heron replied, walking toward him.
Intense blue eyes stared at her over the windings of the burnoose. Tanned hands removed the fabric revealing a very handsome face framed by a well-trimmed curly chestnut beard and mustache.
“I am Artax. Will you join me at supper? Sunset? I hate to eat alone…” The man took no notice other than a casual glance at her blue hands. He smiled as he took off his packs and dropped two javelins on the ground. He held up a small okapi deer carcass, already cleaned.
“I am called Heron. I would be honored. Until sunset, Artax.” She went to the far side of the pool and hastily went through her pack for a comb and a clean robe. Her heart was pounding in anticipation. She bathed, scrubbing her skin with sand until it tingled. She washed her hair with a small amount of aloes she had left in a bottle. Krait watched over her friend’s ablutions with a bemused attitude.
** You find him pleasing? ** She lay atop the clean robe, her tongue tasting the air.
“I haven’t seen a human face in four months,” Heron wrung the last drops of water from her hair. “A leper would be welcome to talk to at this point.” She unceremoniously dumped the snake off as she dressed. She sat in the sun combing her hair.
** You can talk to me… ** Krait’s voice seemed smaller than usual. The woman put the comb down and cradled her friend in her blue hands.
“Krait, I love you. You are my guardian. You saved my life, and my sanity,” Heron kissed the wedged-shaped head. “He is a diversion, not a replacement. Never a replacement.”
** I think I’m molting again-- ** Krait’s bifurcated tongue flickered against the woman’s cheek, Heron knew she had forgiven her. ** Keep his big feet away from me. Have fun. **
Heron tucked her between two sun-warmed rocks, “You’ll be safe here.”
The venison was excellent. It had been a long time since she had fresh meat. Heron had gathered some figs from the palm trees for their dessert. Artax passed her a skin of wine. His hand brushed against hers and their eyes met. The night air was chill but her skin felt flushed.
“We do not need wine tonight.” Heron let the bota drop as Artax’ hands opened her robe. She undid his and saw the pale flesh like marble where the sun had not touched it. He lay her down on her robe and began a trail of kisses that began at her lips and wandered across her body. He slid inside her and they moved to an ancient rhythm. He cried out as release came. Artax held her waist and stayed within as they sat up. Her ankles locked behind his back under the robe.
They rocked together and she felt the delicious pressure build at her core. Her nails gripped his shoulders as she moaned. The stars flickered red above her as a crimson moon burned overhead. Red!
“Daemon! Witch!” He stood abruptly, causing Heron to fall backwards. He had seen her eyes!
“And if I am, I am no harm to you!” She pleaded, fastening her robe. “This is a holy site-- “ She saw his sword pommel swing into her temple and she blacked out.
Heron’s head throbbed; her hands were bound behind her. She looked up and saw that she was tied to a dead palm trunk that was stuck alone in a base of sand where the desert had reclaimed it. The edge of the oasis was five hundred paces away. He was not going to violate the code by harming her within the boundary.
She saw him come near, his horse saddled and ready to travel. ”Artax, please!”
“May the sun scorch you, may the sands drink your blood, may your bones never be found!” His arm pulled back.
“Artax-- “ A javelin pierced her breast, burying deep into the trunk behind her. For the second time darkness claimed her.
Her mouth was dry; the merciless sun loomed over head. A terrible pain in her chest. “Krait-- “ Heron whispered. Some time passed. Out of the shade slithered a small red form. She coiled up the woman’s leg and stopped at her wrists. She struck again and again ‘til the blood ran freely. Heron twisted her wet hands trying to pull free. She had to stop to rest. The heat sucked the moisture away and her hands were left covered with congealed blood.
“I can’t get loose…”
** You will. ** Late in the day the snake struck again. As the cool night air descended, Heron finally freed her hands. She gripped the iron wood shaft and pulled, screaming into the night. It held fast.
“It won’t come out!”
** Then pull yourself off. ** Heron looked at the end of the javelin, so impossibly far away.
“Krait, my friend. Get -- into the shade -- before sunrise…” The small one made her way to the sand in the direction of the oasis. The sun rose for a second brutal day.
At night, Heron gathered what small strength she had and pulled her body inch by inch around the shaft. She could no longer speak; her lips were cracked and bleeding. Krait held what little water she could in her mouth and gave the woman the few precious drops.
By the time the sun rose, Heron had gone one third of the way. Two more hellish days pinned under the ravenous heat. Tonight. She will be free tonight.
Heron heard a dry croaking off to the side and saw a vulture hopping closer to a meal. Her. She raised an arm and he backed off a couple of steps. He could wait. He had patience and all the time in the world.
She could touch the far end of the shaft. She felt it bend a little as she neared the end. Almost. Free.
The wood snapped and Heron fell into the sand. The vulture flew off, surprised. She tried to get to her knees. She couldn’t feel her legs. The shaft grated against her spine. Heron couldn’t reach behind her to pull it free. The water, so close. She dragged herself on her elbows, the sand slipping beneath her providing poor traction. She was so tired.
It was dark. Heron was cool and surrounded by coolness. Her hands were crossed on her breast and she felt her pack under her head. The javelin was gone. A cloth was wrapped around her face. There was a strange pressure about her limbs. She tried to lift her arms and couldn’t. A few grains of sand slipped onto her hands. She was buried alive!
“Krait!” How could she hear Heron? Was she alive? Or trapped with her? I’m not dead! Help me!
** Be still. ** Krait’s voice! Her blessed voice! ** Help comes. I must go. ** Heron lay immobile. She could do nothing but wait. She could not tell if time passed. It must have. Little by little she was aware of a roaring above her that grew louder. A lion? The pressure lessened. She could move one shoulder. The roaring changed in intensity like no beast she knew of. Heron clawed up with her hands through the sand to-- air!
Winds tore at her; stinging sand rasped her skin. Heron was in the midst of a sandstorm. It had uncovered her grave. She pulled out her pack and clutched it tight. She stumbled into the wind driven sand and staggered. She squinted, trying to make out where the oasis was. There! A torn palm frond skittered past her before she was blinded.
With each breath, sand entered her mouth threatening to drown her. It sucked at Heron’s legs and bit at her exposed flesh. It battered at her soul and flung her down. She grasped at an exposed root and drew herself into the shelter of a fallen palm. The storm roared its disappointment about her then finally went away.
Somehow she crawled to the edge of the water and fell gracelessly. Half her face was wet; the brackish water was nectar to her lips.
The sand settled into new configurations. Heron lay in the pool most of the day, letting the coolness soothe her abraded flesh. A deep scar in the midst of her chest was slow in fading.
Krait told her what had happened. Nomads came and finding Heron’s body, gave her a burial according to their customs. All her belongings were left to comfort her in the next world. She had been interred for five days before the storm came. Krait despaired of ever seeing her again. She was too small to dig the woman free though she had been trying. The sandstorm would either have freed Heron or entomb her forever.
Krait slithered over with a small cluster of dates, ** Missed you. **
“I missed you too, my friend.” Heron nibbled at the sweet fruit while she watched. They slept, the serpent was coiled under her chin.
Cramps woke Heron up. ”Goddess-- Were the dates bad?” She gasped as claws tore inside her belly. She pulled the bota over and drank but two mouthfuls when she retched. Her head pounded and it felt like something was trying to tear free. She was burning up. She shed her robe and on her hands and knees tried to make it to the pool. Fluids gushed between her legs as her muscles bore down. She was crouched down, trying to rise when something slid out from inside of her.
Heron heard a thin cry. It lay in blood and a bluish fluid. Little arms waved weakly, the legs were fused together and ended in what might have been a foot. A caul covered its head and extended down to the shoulders. The slick flesh was covered in greenish scales. It opened its eyes and stared at her. The tiny red orbs blinked as a pink split tongue snuck through the thin lips. It cried again and she saw the nascent fangs descend. The umbilical still connected them and it pulsed with life.
“No…No!” Heron grabbed the slick cord and wrapping it about her hands, she pulled it from her. She shrieked as something tore inside and the afterbirth came out in a bloody mass. Warm blood flowed over her thighs as she lay panting; she looked at it again. The chest was moving weakly, its mouth opened but there was no sound. The chest rose and fell once, again, and stopped.
It had its father’s skin and its mother’s eyes.
** Take it, ** Krait spoke.
“What?” Heron was still bleeding from inside. Something was wrong.
** Take back your blood. From the child. **
“That-- is no child!”
** You have not fed in weeks. Reclaim what is yours. Acknowledge the innocent. **
Krait was right. Heron pulled the still warm body to her. It was of her flesh and she needed it. She easily broke through the delicate skin at the neck and tasted her own blood. Tears ran down her face as she drank. Krait came up to her throat and bit deeply. As the venom coursed through her veins, she saw from the serpent’s eyes the temple cell where she had been left to die.
After the Serpent God, Sha-Jhia, had forced his poison into her, he left unsatisfied. Part of him that was still a man remembered the pleasures he took as a man and he had not tasted a woman’s flesh in a very long time. It was easy enough for him to spread her open and take what he wanted. Six and seven times a day he abused the unconscious woman’s flesh with his. Krait came out to give her food and water when the God had gone. When she felt his approach, she hid away where she wouldn’t be crushed by his bulk. Heron lived with the truth tucked deep inside her.
This warped bundle of flesh was the inheritance of those rapes. Heron wrapped the tiny body and the afterbirth in layers of palm fronds. This time it was she who dug a grave in the sands. Her nails tore, scrabbling at the grains, so she used her knife to make the hole deep where jackals couldn’t go. She placed the baby at the bottom and gently pushed the sand on top. The innocent deserved a fairer form in a far better world. Her child slept in the sand.
True worth is ephemeral, catching the moment is a holy quest. Remembering it so, is a passion.
"I killed her, Krait-- when I ripped out my womb I tore away any chance she would have had." The death of her daughter weighed heavily upon Heron’s heart. She couldn't get the picture of the small deformed body out of her mind.
**She was born of two worlds. She could not have lived in either. He who planted her within you was also responsible for her death.** The dark red snake guardian coiled comfortingly about her neck.
"She was my child, Krait. I didn't even give her a name…" They were in the deep southern forests. It was the verdant home to Krait's wild kin but the woman could find no comfort there.
Yells and clashing steel broke her reverie. She felt Krait tighten her satin grip as Heron pulled her knife and ran into the clearing. A group of men in burgundy and black were fighting women clothed in brown and green leather. Arrows hissed as the men faded back into the cover of the trees. The women fell under the onslaught.
"Krait-- seek cover!" The serpent slithered into the thick brush and safety.
Heron heard a faint gasp from one young brunette warrior. An arrow was buried deep under her left ribs; a second pierced her upper arm. She put up her knife and pulled out her waterskin, opening it, she cradled the girl's head.
"Here, drink," It was the only comfort she could give. The fallen girl swallowed but most of it ran down her chin.
"Tell them -- Korda's men -- broke the treaty." Her eyes stared at the leaves over head.
Slowly the woods responded as birds reclaimed their voices. A delicate necklace of polished stones and feathers had fallen off of her. Heron held it, noting absently how the blood had soaked through a few of the iridescent feathers.
"Get up," a harsh voice commanded as something pushed hard against Heron’s back. She stood slowly and turned. Here were at least two dozen women warriors, their green and brown attire perfect camouflage for the forest.
"Who are you that steals from the dead?" The leader's sword now pressed hard against the stranger’s throat. Her obsidian eyes were cold and merciless.
"I am Heron. I came on this fight at its finish. Before she died this warrior said, 'Korda's men broke the treaty.' I gave her water and held her when she died."
The woman looked at the blue tattooed hands, "I didn't think there were women in the priesthood of the Serpent God."
"There aren't. This was a punishment."
"You will see our Queen. She will decide your fate." The others constructed makeshift litters to carry their dead.
They walked until nearly sunset, their progress slow but steady with the eight still forms. Ahead Heron saw torches then a substantial village as they brought the fallen women home. A hand on her shoulder stopped her. She watched a stunning raven-haired woman come out of the largest hut. She was taller than most, her cerulean blue eyes looked down at the newcomer, and Heron was well above average height.
"I am Queen Iska, of the Zoras tribe, of the panther clan."
"She's been with the priests of the Serpent God," The march leader indicated the blue hands with her sword.
"I am Heron. I have nothing to do with the gods of this land."
"You killed my Sharra!" A middle-aged woman screamed from the side where horses were stabled. Heron saw her throw something and briefly heard a whistling noise before her head was struck and she fell.
"Are you all right?" Heron recognized the voice of the Queen. Her head throbbed as she reached up, breaking through darkness. A hand pushed hers away when she tried to touch the wound. "Let Thea finish treating you. I apologize for the attack. Marris has been crazed from grief since she lost her daughter. Here, sit up slowly." Iska’s strong hands helped her rise as she opened her eyes. The healer watched as she put away her linen and salve, suspicious of the blue-handed woman.
“I don't suppose I can just walk out of here."
Iska smiled and shook her head, "Our laws are not kind to trespassers. I believe you tried to help Fiona. I know Korda wants our lands. But I must abide by the rules of war. We have had many losses and my people want a victory soon. You have to remain as a prisoner or a slave."
"I am not slave material, your Majesty." Heron slowly undid the ties of her tunic and turning away, she let it drop, revealing the mass of scars that covered her back. After a few moments, she pulled up the silk cloth and refastened it.
"Then I must have you locked up. Your bandages shall be changed at night and in the morning until you are well. I will talk with you later." She left and two guards led Heron to a thick walled hut with narrow windows and a planked door.
The guards were changed frequently. Heron was given three substantial meals a day and Thea was surprised to see that her head wound healed very quickly. She listened to the village of women as they spoke of war, of discouragement, of an uncertain future. The Queen had made no decisive move against the invaders and for that she was criticized in hushed tones. Heron learned of their ways and formed a plan. She missed Krait and was in great need of the little serpent’s special touch. She had to leave without the threat of recapture.
"What are you thinking, Heron?" Iska walked beside her as guards flanked them to prevent her escape. The beautiful Queen watched the stranger as she was silent for a moment.
"I wish to challenge you, as is my right as a prisoner." An eyebrow raised as Iska heard the request.
"I am the best warrior of my people, you could never hope to win free that way. Stay with us until these unsettled times are over. Then you may come and go as you please. You are not ill-treated by some of my over-zealous comrades are you?"
"No, your Majesty. But being held captive, no matter the comfort of the cage, is still unbearable to me. Please, let me go, or let me fight for my freedom." With these words, Heron knelt before Iska, her eyes lowered. The Queen’s hands took her shoulders and brought Heron to her feet.
"Then it shall be so." Iska looked into her eyes, "You have a very slender chance of winning. But if you do you are free to go. If you die--“
"Then I ask that my body be placed in the forest away from Zoras' lands, with my few possessions by my side."
"I promise. So be it, Heron." She ordered the guards, "Let her bathe and prepare for the combat pit tomorrow at dawn."
Heron slept little that night, the lack of Krait's poison was becoming unbearable. She heard the key tumble in the lock and she stepped out as the sky was frail with morning. Over two hundred women of all ages were waiting to see the duel. She stood by the platform before one end of a great log, stripped of bark and suspended by its ends over a pit. She saw Iska come forward on the other side; her muscles moving easily under her tawny skin, like the cat whose clan she belonged to.
They both wore the briefest of tops with short leather skirts from hip to mid-thigh. Their feet were bare and leather thongs held back their hair. The Queen nodded to Heron and she returned the gesture as she reached for a staff. Iska leaped and twisted in mid-air to land on her log end catching the staff thrown to her by a guard. Cheers met her display and Heron smiled, despite their being adversaries.
Heron went to her end of the log and crouched in a battle stance. They swung and ducked getting the measure of each other's abilities. Iska went for her knee then circled quickly to catch her at the hip. Heron bent as if unbalanced and turned smacking the Queen in the shoulder, drawing a little blood. Iska laughed at the pain; her eyes grew bright as she spun the length of wood in a dizzying array of patterns that Heron barely had time to block. She leaped over Heron to land behind her, backhanding the staff she tried to bring down on Iska and sweeping into the smaller woman’s ribs. Two identical hard raps on her knuckles and Heron dropped her staff. Her foot slipped and she felt herself falling. The crowd roared their approval.
"Take it!" Iska held out her hand to catch her opponent.
"I can't-- “ The jagged steel spikes in the bottom of the pit tore through flesh and bone. “ Remember-- your promise!" Heron begged the Queen as the white sands beneath her turned red and all about her went black.
She was first aware of a tickling on her cheek, then satin rasping against her skin and two sharp fangs delivering life into her body. Krait's venom rushed through Heron’s depleted veins fighting the toxin from the great serpent.
**You couldn't have them leave you closer. No, you had to be in the next province. I nearly wore off all my belly scales getting to you.**
Heron sat up slowly and kissed the dark red head as the blue flush spread down her throat. "And I thank you for saving me once again, my guardian."
"I wondered what kind of woman cared more about the circumstances of her death than she did of her life," Iska's voice came down from the night-trimmed trees. Heron heard a quiet rustling and saw the Queen jump down from a branch. "We of the panther clan have a few secrets of our own."
A shadow detached from the darkness to pad up to her. It raised up on its hind legs and took her throat in its deadly mouth. Moments went by as her guardian shared the gift with her. Then the great cat dropped onto all fours and vanished into the woods. A golden flush spread under her skin.
"How did you know?" Krait slipped down Heron’s arm and onto her pack.
"When Marris cut you with the discus I thought I smelled it in your blood. After you fell into the pit-- I was certain of it."
"The others-- “
"Only I am here, your secret is safe with me, as is mine with you. Come, there is a pool nearby. You can wash off the dried blood."
Iska led Heron to a sheltered glen where soft moss grew around a natural hot spring. The full moon reflected off the water, or was it hiding just beyond their reach beneath the surface? Heron stripped off the green and brown leathers and slid in up to her neck. A hot bath never felt this good before. Iska's clothing fell in silence to the ground. The smaller woman thought for a moment that she was a goddess of the earth sent to save her from herself. Iska stepped in with hardly a ripple, and let the waters embrace her. Heron felt self-conscious; the Queen had risked much to be here. Why? She answered the other’s unspoken query after she ducked down and rose up, water streaming off her face and hair.
"I too know what it is like to be different. To dread that a loving touch could kill," her voice grew husky. "To behold the hatred and fear when they see your arousal brings out the beast within," Her hands pulled Heron’s from beneath the surface. She turned them so that Heron’s palms cupped the night air, then Iska raised them to her lips and kissed them.
"I lost my child…" Heron was near tears. The raven-haired woman licked the salty drops from her cheeks.
"Then you drown yourself in self-hatred and blame for a circumstance over which you had no control. The guardians help but they can never know how your soul is being tortured. I am like you. I know you."
Heron felt their lips touch. A black waterfall of silken hair strained through her fingers. The Queen’s muscles were firm under smooth skin unmarred by any flaw. Iska did not shy away from the ugly scars on the other’s back. Ripples flowed through flesh and water, their cries were heard by the recumbent moon as it bathed their skin in palest light. Iska saw her eyes turn red as stars burst within her; the Queen’s eyes glowed golden when fulfillment drove her over the edge.
Heron longed to taste the blood pulsing beneath her skin at Iska’s throat. She had to break the skin and feel the warm salty fluid quench her terrible thirst. She made thought into deed and savored the richness as Iska in turn nuzzled at the pulse at her lover’s throat and gently tore through to take that essence for her own.
"I never thought to awaken to a morning like this, " Heron whispered as the dawn crept between the distant trees. They lay curled together on the moss. The smaller woman felt the Queen’s smile as she gently bit her shoulder. Heron rolled on her back to see the dark woman better.
"I must go back to the village. Our ways are ancient yet there are few of us left to defend them. Tomorrow I lead them into war against Korda's army."
"You don't think you'll win do you?" Heron saw the small leather bag between her breasts rise and fall with each breath. Each inhale and exhale brought the Queen closer to her last.
Iska saw where her gaze rested. She sat and shook out the contents of the little sack. Dark amber drops, dozens of them fell into her palm. "You know what these are…"
Heron reached over to her own pack and pulled out her own pouch. "Tears Of The Night, from my guardian." Nine deep blue drops tumbled into her hand.
"Open your mouth." Heron did as she asked without hesitation. Iska placed an amber bead on her tongue and took a blue one in between her own lips. Heron watched her swallow and did the same. The world tilted briefly then became steady again.
"What?" Heron shook her head.
"I shall know where you are and what happens to you. You shall feel the same for me. For whatever time we have, we can share. Remember, 'Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad'. Don't let the gods win!" She kissed the smaller woman and arose to dress. Reluctantly Heron pulled on her own clothes. She watched that incredible body turn and bend with ties and clasps. Such a mundane action accomplished with such grace and economy of movement. Her heart caught in her throat.
"Be well, Iska. Queen of the Zoras, of the panther clan."
"Be well, Heron." In a few steps she blended into the forest and was swallowed up.
Krait coiled about her neck in her usual manner. Heron hoisted her pack to her shoulder and attached her knife to her hip. She looked longingly at the pool and the surroundings. This would be a place she would never forget. Iska’s touch still burned sweetly.
On the third day Heron saw the battlefield. Bodies lay in a haphazard manner as life left them. There were many men in burgundy and black but more of the women clothed in green and brown leathers. She knew she would find the Queen here.
A lightning blasted tree was the scene of her last moments. A leather belt emblazoned with golden panthers held her to the trunk. Bodies of the enemy were piled deep about her.
Iska had danced with her swords weaving steel upon the loom of the enemy. She leaped over the heads of the foe laughing in their astonished upturned faces. She scythed the human harvest that grew up to take her down until a crossbow bolt slammed into her back. She slowed long enough to snap off the protruding shaft. Her enemies feared to get too close. A second bolt went deep into her thigh, a third into her shoulder.
Only a handful of Zoras were still fighting, two more fell as the Queen had watched. Her wrists twisted the blades before her as blood flowed from shoulder and thigh. Iska backed up to the storm-shattered pine and quickly wrapped her belt about herself and the trunk so that she would not fall before the enemy. Even as she exerted her last strength, they feared her. Her black hair flowed in a dark banner behind her as her cerulean eyes took in the defeat of her people. She would never surrender. Men nudged each other in a dare against the dying woman. She taunted them, making them rush her. Blades parted life from flesh and still they came until General Korda called them off.
They stood just out of reach of her swords, watching her gasp for breath, a crooked smile on her face. Sinews stretched as they were cranked back. Steel-tipped bolts were placed just so. Korda called, "Mark!" and triggers were released. They made a wet pounding noise altogether as the shafts raced each other to be the first to impale her heart. Her head snapped back against the trunk. Feeling safe, now the General stepped up to claim his trophy. His hand tangled in the blue black tresses, the sword lifted up to cut through her neck, blood flowing from the silent red lipped mouth. As above, so below. Iska’s head tipped down, fury in her ice blue eyes as one of her swords plunged into his chest. The remaining men ran, fleeing for their lives and their sanity.
Her hand still grasped that sword. The body of Korda had slipped off to lie at her feet like the basest slave. Iska’s flesh was still warm and pliable. Out of the forests came her clan. Heron counted fifteen of the great black cats. She stepped back to let them have a moment with their Queen. Each one sniffed her hand and licked at the blood of the enemy. The last, the largest, stood on her hind legs and braced her paws on either side of Iska's head. She bent to the gaping wound then lifted up her head and roared to the skies. She resumed her position on all fours and padded off after the rest.
Heron picked up the sword that had nearly severed Iska’s head and found a plain scabbard to put it in. Never more would it offend the dark woman’s sight. Heron would use it against the enemy wherever she found them. She left her Queen there, to guard in death as she had in life.
I touched my cheek; the skin felt harsh and dry. The face in the mirror had not changed but I felt the difference. My fingers trembled.
Scales. They were beginning.
The screaming awoke me, my own voice hoarse, gasping in the darkness. My eyes adjusted to the low light of the late night stars. I felt the comfort of dark red satin coils about my throat.
**Bad dreams?** My snake spoke softly in my mind.
"Yes, go back to sleep my guardian."
**I have dreams too. I always wake and know the daylight from the realm of shadows.**
"You were not ravaged by a monster. You have not lost one love after another." I picked up the sword that lay by my bedroll, the same sword that had nearly severed Iska’s head from her body.
I saw her laughing, a staff twirling in her competent callused fingers. The short black fur of her panther guardian contrasted against the Queen’s long blue-black hair as they embraced. Moonlight echoed off her magnificent body as she rose naked and glistening from the pool. A dozen feathered shafts stuck out of her heart.
I had made a vow on the sword; for slaying my love, neither Korda nor any whom supported him would I spare its edge. I followed the army, the colors flickering burgundy and black. I challenged them, one by one and more. As often as I received, what on others would be a mortal wound, I healed, only to stalk and kill again.
"Morning. I'm J’hraz," a pleasant low voice startled me, waking me a second time. I was clad only in a short thin tunic, instinctively I crouched with sword in hand. A cloaked figure knelt by the renewed fire. The hood fell back revealing an older blonde woman who placed a baked fish on several wide leaves and turned to me.
**Breakfast,** I was surprised at Krait's instant acceptance of our visitor. She slithered over to the cook.
"And for your guardian…" A blue tattooed hand held a small live trout just above the serpent's mouth. Krait unhinged her lower jaw and began swallowing her meal.
"You're a priestess of the serpent god? How can that be? What do you want?" I still held the sword ready to strike.
"A hot meal," said the attractive middle-aged woman, her wheaten hair was upswept, bound with a silver circlet. She made sure Krait had her meal well anchored before she took up a second makeshift plate of leaves with a fish on it and sat back to eat. I saw a flash of dark red scales around her throat. The older woman’s small snake peeked out at me as I put down the sword and pulled on a cloak to keep off the morning chill, then I too ate. The fish was quite good; I took out some flat bread and shared it with the stranger. A wide bulge stretched Krait's sides after she finished swallowing her meal. I saw a satisfied undulation as the lump moved slightly.
"So you can cook. You're a long way from the temple kitchen." I drew on my trousers and boots, tucking in the shirttail.
"True. But more has changed in eight years than the menu. They speak of a woman warrior with a cursed blade. She hunts for those who wear the colors of Korda. Both she and the sword drink blood and she cannot die."
"Well, you're a little late. My heart died a long time ago. The rest is just mechanical reflex." I pulled out a piece of oiled wool and a whetstone and began setting a sharper edge to the steel blade.
"The high priest who caused your suffering is dead. What happened to you was terrible. It should never have come to this."
"Now would that be my being assaulted, the blue needles puncturing my hands, the hundred stokes leaving me a scant breath from dying, or the rape of my body and soul by your god, Sha-Jhia? Or my surviving?"
J’hraz had the good grace to shake her head in the negative, "You've become something they never expected. A woman, anyone, who received so much poison should have died. Usually an acolyte chooses a snake and he is bitten. Once having immunity, he drinks a highly diluted infusion from Sha-Jhia’s venom. After careful monitoring of his reactions and his dreams, he is considered Chosen. He is tattooed and he becomes a full-fledged priest."
"And a kidnapper, a rapist, a torturer, a murderer." I wiped the metal clean. "I've heard stories of how others disappeared inside the temple into suffering and death." I flexed my wrist, watching the light reflect off the sword, "Now why shouldn't I kill you?"
"I'm not your enemy. The order has changed, they are renewing their ancient vows as healers--"
“--Over innocent blood?" I stood, looking down at her. "We've shared food and a fire. According to custom, that alone let's you walk away with your life."
**Believe the guardian if not the woman,** My Krait spoke in a sleepy mood, as she lay coiled on the pack.
"She's right, Navia who is now called Heron." J’hraz stood and held out her serpent, “Listen to my Hycis.” The small snake's tongue flickered out to taste the air. Reluctantly I took the serpent and let him wind about my neck. The warm satin of his skin felt familiar but the little movements as he got settled were not the same as my own guardian's.
"Show me the truth, Hycis of J’hraz."
"You have denied our teachings and perverted our beliefs!" An angry archpriest berated the disgraced high priest. This was the one who had caused me so much torment. The grey gold-edged robe was dirty and torn. He was shackled inside the serpent god's lair.
"Please! Don't take him!" begged the ex-priest as his snake was removed.
"You do not deserve the death you will receive. But we have no other way to punish such as you. Let our Lord Sha-Jhia judge you as you are consumed." The archpriest bent down and let the freed guardian go to rejoin his kin in the rocks.
A loud rasping noise coming closer signaled a general exodus out of the cell and the door was locked tight behind the condemned. The chained man began to scream. A heavy scraping of thick scales against stone from the huge serpent god scored deeper into old grooves worn into the floor. A massive tail smashed the chains from the wall and the ex-priest fell. The great lower jaw unhinged and the lipless mouth stretched to swallow its whimpering, crawling, terrified meal. By the time just below the knees were left sticking out, the struggling and the screams had ceased.
I was startled as the vision stopped. J’hraz’ serpent slid off and returned to her. My Krait flicked her tongue and turned away to doze while her meal digested. I finished dressing and packed my things, placing my guardian carefully on top of the satchel, to keep her safe.
"Where are you going?" J’hraz asked.
"To do what I usually do, hunt down what's left of Korda's army."
"Mind if I follow?" The older woman arose and kicked dirt over the fire, dousing it.
"Just stay out of my way, priestess."
I heard a clashing of metal and I ran around a small rise. Burgundy and black and steel. I swung my sword, impervious to the shrieks and commotion around me.
"No! Stop, Heron! Look at them." J’hraz’ hands were clapped on either side of my blade, the cords standing out in her neck with the effort of holding back my rage.
A ragged vest in Korda's colors hung askew on a boy of twelve, who lay sprawled in the dirt. A girl, not much older, and probably his sister, was holding her arm. Blood seeped under her fingers as her face paled in terror. Two dull rusted swords lay in the dirt.
"What?" I lowered my blade and shook my head. I felt a tree at my shoulders, not realizing I’d backed away.
"They're children, playing together. There IS no more army, Heron." J’hraz opened her pack and called for clean linen, wine and water. I slid down to sit and watched as she cleaned and dressed the wound. I threw my money pouch to the brother and shook my head not trusting my voice. I felt out of focus, confused.
At some point J’hraz took my arm and led me away from the village. She whistled and a grey gelding cantered out of the woods. J’hraz mounted and offered a hand to pull me up.
I shook my head and pushed the older woman away. I turned and fled, running from the horror inside of me.
Running, briars tore at me, roots lifted from the earth to trip me. It rained, sluicing over me, hailstones in icy fists pummeling me, solid sheets of water concealing everything that was further than an arm’s length away until the earth itself slid from under me.
I saw J’hraz bending over me, a cool cloth in hand as she daubed at a gash over my eye. I grabbed her wrist: “Your hands, they’re not blue. You’re not a priestess are you?” Her features shimmered and twenty years vanished. Her hair was now an eerie silver, flowing about her in a breeze I could not feel.
“No, neither am I a cook. My communions are with the dead, I am a necromancer.” Around her throat, a silvery torque in the shape of a serpent winked at me. It was Hycis who spread his hood showing a ruby hourglass emblazoned on the outspread cowl.
My strength went out and I fell back against the pillow, sharp pains in my legs in multiple sites caused groans to come out from my unwilling lips. I tried to ignore the grating, stabbing, seeing the broken edges that distorted my flesh.
“How can you be thus? Dealing with the dead? What can you gain?”
“In all times, the dead vastly outnumber the living, from whom better to learn the secrets of the Otherside? And of life. Thought there is a price, always a price.” She put the cloth back on the tray and picked up a small knife. ”You broke several bones when the rain loosened the soil and the rockslide caught you,” J’hraz explained as she sliced off my clothes and pulled the remnants free.
“Krait?” I was not concerned so much for my life, such as it was, but I loved my limbless guardian; she deserved better than being battered and drowned. A flexible forked tongue licked my ear and tears came unbidden.
“Hold tight while I align your bones before you heal.” My teeth clenched as the grinding jagged ends were pulled back through my broken flesh and adjusted back to true. “Oh, I saved your sword as well, and it's been a while since you bathed." J’hraz’ nose wrinkled and she smiled as she pulled over a basin and sandalwood soap.
**Yes. Bathe,** said my Krait as she came over and sank her fangs into my throat.
I felt the healing venom flow like a welcoming cool rain through my burning veins as the necromancer cleaned my body. My legs tingled as the bones pulled together and knit.
"The great serpent's venom is still very powerful in you," said J’hraz.
I was clean, dressed and we had both eaten and were relaxing by the fire.
"I've found it increases what I feel, but I must be careful not to lose control. My first love, after the change; I killed her. I took her blood. How can I stop it?"
"The original venom calls for blood and it in turn calls for venom from your Krait. Especially since the greater quantity was forced into you initially. Perhaps if you decrease the pressure somehow?“
“The Snake God ravaged me, body and soul, yet I was rescued by this modest serpent. She saved what she could of me. I was weakened and ignorant of what was happening to me. The temple bought a slave to take care after I was left me beaten, poisoned and marked for death. The slave tended me, dressed my wounds, bathed my battered body, eased my pain. I was going to take her with me, this loving beautiful girl, who saw me at my worst and brought out my best.
“I didn’t know what the poison was doing to me. I had become a monster, hidden from even myself until I loved her, until my lust slew her with impunity. I wanted her blood and I took it; ignoring her cries, her trembling hands, her tears. I caused her death, leaving a husk, a shell of the one I loved. I could not even kill myself to atone.
“The next time I lay with a man, and I vowed to keep my need silent and contained. But he saw my eyes change. Rightly, he called me daemon and pinned me to a tree, a javelin thrust through me, leaving me for dead.
“Iska, she knew my weakness, she knew me. Our brief hours were the happiest in the life I must lead. Her path was for her to lead her people into war. The next time I saw her, she was dead.”
“I can give you some measure of peace,” said J’hraz as she sipped golden wine from a smoky goblet. ”Serve me for a year and a day, your body and mind at my command, and in the end, Sha-Jhia will be annihilated.”
I was confused, “If I consent to be your slave, how can you make such a claim to destroy that monstrous snake god?”
“That monster was my son.”
Conclusion of - 'Heron D'Arc'
Heron's Fan Fiction Index