This is a critically-acclaimed chapter from Kindler of Flames, the first book of my science-fantasy series Nescada, which will be published in summer 2015. Enjoy.


CANBOULAY DLA SHAMHNA

Present. 87,500 FA

Sphere Sonmyst. High Street, Chaguanas.

            Sajhi BeharrySingh pelted around the junction of Mucarapo and High Street, desperate and relying on the busy throng of dimtime revellers to hide his small, rapidly-moving form in the squeeze of their clammy, half-naked flesh as he made his escape from the man. Inside his short jacket he felt the weight of his prize slamming into his chest like a heart, as if wanting to distract him, to foil him and return to its master. He would give neither the satisfaction though, as he swung around the street lamp and crashed headlong into the man himself, the mercenary Caldera. Shit, I’m dead.

His body turning to the left, scrambling away even as his face registered his pursuer, he darted into The Promenade, where the judging of participants in the J’ouvert street party had already begun. Known as the Jab Jabs, their bodies smeared in paint and mud and oil, they beat the street with flaming stalks of sugar cane in a freestyle dance so faultless and unified it would appear choreographed to the alien eye. Their horned masks, glittering with sequins and feathers and beads, hid their true features, as their writhing bodies, wrapped in wires and ropes and chains contorted in the fires of the whirling canes.

The cane represented the phallus of Tunukh, Elanai of Sonmyst, the fire, the regenerative womb of the greater spiral of Nescada. Their union, and his death in the dance of life, created the unending abundance of the peoples of the sphere. Chutney soca playing on the steel pan orchestras that lined the road, saturated the air as more revellers, their skins psychedelic and shimmering, made their way from High Street into The Promenade. Brandishing burning canes they wined and pushed against each other unrestrained, their buttocks swivelling wildly to the rhythmic beat of the music.

It was the final day of Canboulay dla Shamhna, the hallowed carnival, The Burnt Cane at Summer’s End; a time of waning life, and of life before death, where the living danced for the dead the celestial intercourse between the sphere and the spiral. They celebrated life, and the lives of those who had passed, with their carnal crusade, their erotic movements, their wanton gyrations. Yet the solemnity on every face spoke of a sacred intent, and high, spiritual piety, even as the rapture trembling within their bodies told of descent into the little death.

To Sajhi, who had never seen anything like it before in his lifetime, it was more than a little frightening, but no more so than the mercenary who pursued him now. Those who did not dance, played games of stick-fighting with the canes, brave enough to set the stalks on fire and duel, licking them together until the flames went out. Those who did not dance or stick-lick, held limbo competitions to see who could shimmy lowest under the flaming stalks, their backs flat to the ground without touching it, signifying the descent of life into death.

It was the final day of Canboulay dla Shamhna, and it was here in the city of Chaguanas, on the continent of Iëre, Sonmyst, that the crew of Pagona Orb were recruiting volunteers for their own crusade. Captivated by the darkly sensual atmosphere of the strange carnival, swept up in the sights and sounds all around them, Bentin and Saeris barely glanced at the brochures they had received as they looked on in amazement.

The pageantry of the ritual dance, the power of the ceremonial song, the wild, anarchic energy of the night, filled them with wonder both nostalgic and new, like a long-forgotten dream, now freshly recurring. Night wind, bittersweet with the sacred and profane, wafted the luscious scent of local food from the stalls they passed as they walked along High Street. The harmonic vocals of reigning soca queen, Destra Garcia, pierced the air from the stage erected at the end of the road, as the J’ouvert concert experience commenced.

Wave for me, wave for me … I need you, I-I-I need you … Wave for me!

“What are those?” Saeris chirped, pointing to a stack of fluffy, golden brown, pita-like patties.

A hearty laugh rang out from the vendorman’s belly into the night.

“Allyuh nuh come from here!” he cawed with a chuckle. “That is doubles. It is a fried dough delicacy wit’ curried channa all of we enjoy on di sphere.”

Bentin’s face fell blank before she grasped the meaning.

“From here? Oh no, no, no!” she denied, eager to explain their case with an elated grin. “We’re from Chloséi. We got in this evening!”

The vendorman smiled, revealing a mouthful of strong, golden teeth, one twisted and somewhat endearing with a slight chip. “This is di first time you comin’ Sonmyst, owah?”

“This is the first time anywhere!” Saeris crowed, before she turned to Bentin, coaxing her with imploring eyes. “Can I have a doubles please?”

The queen continued to sing, snaking her ample hips as she moved across the platform, then jumping before the gathering crowd, her rag waving high in the air. Rousing and reverent, sinuous and strong, she led them in frenzied devotion.

We jumpin’! And wavin’! We jammin’! Til’ mornin’! I’m your Queen! You’re my King! My darling …

“How much for two doubles?” Bentin asked the vendorman, flipping open a pouch on the belted satchel Zenovardo had lent to her.

“Ten barven fuh two,” he said in his thick, sing-song accent as he reached for paraffin paper to wrap the soft, saffron-coloured tacos in. Handing the food to Saeris with one hand as he took the coinage from Bentin with the other, he gave them both a welcoming smile, warm as the cocoa-colouring of his skin, and the heat rolling off the grill.

“Enjoy!” he said with a deep nod of his head, smile spreading into a gracious grin.

“Thank you, Mister!” Saeris beamed, before glancing at Bentin slyly. “So … what you gonna eat?”

Eyes sparking as she narrowed them, Bentin reached for her slippery friend.

“You better give me my doubles!”

 

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            Sajhi cast ceaseless eyes about him as he swept the crowd for the face of his shadow, knowing Caldera would be watching all the exits of the street. His best chance was to remain shrouded by the crowd, who easily-concealed his small, twelve-year old body, even though the dyed orange tufts of his once lengthy, black hair could still betray him under the florescent light of the street lamps at every corner. His eyes sliding towards the stage where the soca queen now gyrated in slow motion, Sajhi failed to see the tiny girl in front him before it was too late, knocking her to the ground as he collided into her painfully.

Whenever I hold you … Yuh does always take full flight …

A billowing cloud of golden hair enveloped her head like an aura, baby-blue eyes filling with tears from the shock of being knocked over. Their collision caught the eyes of spectators who stood close by, prompting a few fatuous sniggers, which only made the tears trickling down the little girl’s face fall even faster. Sajhi inhaled hard when he realized the white, empire-waist dress she wore was now soiled by sewage on the street. At three-feet tall, she could not have been more than six years old. Reaching down to pull her up at once, his flitting eyes swept the faces gathered around them, making certain Caldera was not amongst the few who had caught sight of his clumsiness.

Grabbing his hand with impotent indignation over being trampled where she stood, the small girl got to her feet and tried to look behind her to see how dirty her dress was. Satisfied to see only smudges and dust, rather than smears and stains, she rounded on him with a fury that made him regret not running off, leaving her in the dirt. On the stage the soca queen struck her final notes, voice aching, the moment festal and surreal.

We wavin’! We wavin’! We wavin’! We wavin’! I’m you’re Queen! You’re my King! My darling …

“I sorry,” Sajhi muttered, quick and defiant, torn between ensuring she was fine and turning his attention back to the throng.

The boy smiled though, instantly infatuated as he took in the short, sleeveless dress, gilded with a golden sash around the waist, and complementing the creamy gold of her skin, and the white opaque stockings matching that dress, which slid into baby-blue ballet flats matching her eyes. Yet something in the way she scowled at him, told him what came next wouldn’t be as endearing as the impotent anger on her face; he noticed the tiny, angel wings attached to her back before she opened her mouth.

Are you blind?!”

Sajhi’s face fell into a blank expression. Waysa. She don’t know what manners is, boy.

A woman behind them nudged another with a derisive sound, amused by the small child’s display. Speaking in a lowered tone, and hoping to encourage her to do the same, the boy tried to move away from the little girl, his eyes roving and restless. “Ain’t I say I sorry?”

“Well it wouldn’t have happened if you were looking where you were walking!”

Sajhi curled his lip with scorn. “More like if yuh wasn’t so smallie I wouldn’t have bounce yuh to begin wit’.”

Dashing the drying tears from her cheeks, the little girl squinted and snarled.

“More like it wouldn’t have happened if you weren’t so stupid!”

“More like it wouldn’t have happen if yuh just wasn’t here, first off!

            Her face fell, but more tears did not. Rather, after a pause she smiled, a small, sad smile. Sajhi felt awful.

“I won’t be one day.”

Both alarmed and apprehensive, Sajhi lowered his face to hers as she held his gaze with unfathomably ageless eyes.

“Wam; yuh sick? Wey yuh parents?”

“They went home a while ago.”

Noticing how she hesitated before answering his jaw slackened in incredulity.

“And them jus’ leave yuh here jus’ so?!”

“I’m often by myself, and I’m never by myself.”

He did not understand her at all; her smile widened.

“What that mean?” he asked, bewildered. “Who here wit’ you now?”

“You. Obviously,” she disdained as though the thought offended.

“Ahmm … nah,” he denied with a laugh, straightening up as he looked away. Caldera could find him any moment. His night was already filled with looking after himself alone. Adding some strange little girl to his short list of life or death concerns would help no one involved. “I feel yuh should go home eh.”

Again she smiled.

“I’ve been trying to get there.”

“Wam; yuh lost?”

“No.”

“Well, where yuh liven then?”

“Here.”

Exasperation rent a sigh from him as he rolled his eyes at her.

“Yuh nuh making no sense.”

“I’m not concerned about that.” Her darling smile maddened him in myriad ways.

Aware of those around them who had been observing the squabble, entertained by their puerile retorts, Sajhi lowered his face to hers again.

“If yuh moving wit’ me, let we go.”

Dashing through gaps between the bodies of adults all around them, the two children made their way to a different part of the homogenous crowd on a different section of the congested street, where the masses of people were thinned, the crowd lighter.

“Who are you running from?”

Sajhi glanced down at the small girl beside him, before scanning the faces of the few revellers milling about, yet again.

“But yuh real know,” he said, and said nothing more.

“How old are you?”

“I’s twelve years,” he replied with a puff of pride. “How much years yuh is?”

“Eight for now.” She sounded tired. Sajhi sniggered to himself.

“What’s so funny?”

“Yuh real smallie fuh eight years. I say yuh was five.”

“That’s hilarious I’m sure,” she bit, amazing Sajhi with her ability to talk down to someone at least two feet taller than she. “Will you tell me your name?”

“… Yuh could call me Barry. Who is you?”

“I’m Lebra Arisé, Boy-Whose-Name-Is-Obviously-Not-Barry.”

Sajhi looked down, frowning at her before he looked away.

“I say yuh could call me Barry,” he stated, voice agitated with an underlying caution. “I never say that is me name.”

“Well since I’m with you, ‘Barry’, can you at least tell me why we’re hiding, if not who from?”

“I take something from somebody,” he divulged after a moment, daring her to judge his actions, “an’ now they want it back. They here looking fuh me.”

Lebra didn’t bat an eye.

“What did you steal?”

Impressed with how she handled his admission, Sajhi weighed the danger of disclosing anything else against the excitement of showing the treasure tucked away in his jacket to another child. Excitement won. Hoping he wouldn’t regret sharing it, he pulled his prize out of the inside pocket of his brown, armhole jacket – an ornate, automatic handgun he lifted from the motel room of mercenary Cero Caldera. Lebra eyed the gun without expression, and Sajhi resisted the urge to wave it in her face to get a more fitting reaction. Only after he told her how he had come by the weapon did her eyes widen in response.

“You really are so stupid,” she said with a small shake of her head. “Stealing a weapon from a man who kills for a living? You must want to die.”

“I go live tuh see tomorrow, thanks,” he said with a grin. “I get a chance so I take it; an’ yuh have tuh say this better than my sling shot!”

“Do you even know how to use it?” she disparaged.

“I does watch vision-screens now an’ then an’ I nuh stupid,” came his arrogant reply. “I go figure it out.”

Sajhi scoured the revellers for the face of Caldera or the unwanted eyes of any adults whose attention they had caught, and who happened to be looking in their direction, but saw neither. Tired of her calm with the threat of potential death lying in his hand, he drew the gun out of his jacket fully and into the shadows, extending it towards her for perusal.

“Yuh want see it?”

Lebra reached for the gun, slow and calm.

“Sure,” she said, her steady, even voice earning Sajhi’s awe.

“I hear this is di gun he killed di man he hate most wit’,” the boy bragged, indicating the initials E. C. engraved in cursive on the handle.

On stage, Destra started her next song as the clock on the street corner struck midnight, jumbie hour, when the veil between worlds was thin and the realms of the spiral and Ythrosphyr were as one. One by one they crossed over, the spirits of the Ythrosphyr, dancing a slower, more sensual dance as they weaved in and out amongst the numen; translucent figures glowing in the dark of dimtime. Looking around them in awe, Sajhi yelped as he was whipped around by the scruff of his jacket to find himself staring Caldera dead in the eye.

Dark, blood-red eyes, terrified him and took him to a mindless fear, forsaking him in its grasp. The mercenary was an eerie, ghoulish figure come to reap his tender life, the red of his neck-length hair as the blood of his past victims against the alabaster of his skin. He wore the shade of death – black double-breasted jacket atop a black turtle-neck jersey, slacks and boots – made for and from the shadows. Rolling off of him in ravenous, unforgiving waves, a cold cruelty crushed Sajhi with the weight of sudden inevitability … He was very dead.

“Oh shit!” Slapping Caldera with an open hand to the eye, he thrust his bare but hardened feet into the man’s shins, writhing in mad, panic-induced terror until he slipped free of the short armhole jacket. Glancing at Lebra, eyes bulging with fright, he yelled “Run!” as he sprinted off into the thick of the revellers, without once looking back behind him.

By the time Caldera had recovered from the open palm to the eye, Lebra had already spun away with a giggle, melting into the crowd in the opposite direction to the boy. Sneering after the girl, Caldera turned and slipped his hands inside his pockets, walking into the crowd after Sajhi, with his head held down. On stage the quickening of music reflected the heart of the predator and prey.

When de posse dem come in town, beating pan an’ ah bongo drum, is madness everywhere … Carnival is a true freedom, make ah noise or ah joyful song, and jump up in de air …

            Jumping onto the sidewalk and ducking between a dark-skinned woman and a denizen of the Ythrosphyr, Sajhi spun and made an about-turn, desperate to find Lebra and disappear into the junction between High Street and Mucarapo before Caldera could spot him again. Stalking down the sidewalk however, hands in his pockets and eyes fixed on the boy, the mercenary came. Knowing it was too late to avoid him, Sajhi slipped into the crowded street to his left only to have his escape blocked by the excessive fields of flesh belonging to the touristman before him.

Cursing the corpulent fucker for causing his demise, the boy swung to his right, rushing into what looked like a side road, but which turned out to be a dead-end alley with unscalable walls on every side save the entrance. Cornered, he turned around and backed away as he saw death in the shade of black. The mercenary Caldera had always been soulless and monstrous, not in size, but intention. With his intention trained on Sajhi now, it was all the boy could do to not faint dead away from fear. There was no way to dart around the man in the narrow alleyway, and no hope as he advanced upon the boy.

            Seasons come and seasons go, but Carnival will last …

            “Where is the gun?” The husky whisper of the man’s voice sounded as though he had spent his entire life screaming until his throat was raw.

“… Nuh on me,” Sajhi tried to stall with a hoarse, low-pitched squeak, voice cracking from anxiety.

The vicious backhanded blow that Caldera swung at the boy’s head slammed him into the wall to the right, leaving naught but a smear of blood trailing down to where he slumped against its bricks, floating on waves of spastic, agonizing pain.

“Where?”

Clutching at his head as he heaved his upper body off the wall, Sajhi tried to look the man in the eye, even as his own threatened to lose focus.

“It hiding … I go bring it back fuh yuh.”

“She has it, doesn’t she? Your charming friend.”

The boy’s heart froze.

“I wondered why she would laugh as she ran from me. Such sweet laughter … Such sweet pity.”

The sound of his head cracking against the wall beside him as Caldera’s fist smashed into it yet again was one of the last Sajhi heard as darkness took him, that and the galloping of his heart, ridden hard by fear for Lebra’s safety.

 

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Everybody take ah jump, take ah jump, take ah jump up now! Start to wave, start to wave, start to wave up now! Start to wine, start to wine, start to wine up now because … it’s Carnival!

            The silhouette of the joyous, writhing throng, hands and rags high, flung towards the darkness, transmuted into a roaring ocean of ovation as the J’ouvert street party came to a close with the grand finale of Destra’s hit anthem. On the platform the queen, still hyped from vigorous performance, drew a cooling breath, enough to announce the much-anticipated arrival of the King and Queen of Carnival. Swirling from aethers and dust like devils, moko jumbies rose from the earth to tower in the night, fashioning an avenue of looming shadows with glowing masks down which the Demesne dla Shamhna – the dark court – now began to stroll.

As fast as it grew the cheering died, the revellers welcoming the otherworldly monarchy with wonder and veneration; young numen over the age of sixteen experiencing the phenomenon for the first time, shrinking away in near-hysteria. The sight of the sacred guardians soaring in slow-motion tens of feet in the air staggered them all, as the long, long legs walked tall, tall, tall, rising and falling in and out of the crowds they parted. Escorting the large company of fabled spirits down the length of the street and towards the stage, the parade of jumbies wielded more power and pageantry than anything the numen could conceive. Their skin shaggy like straw, eyes inscrutable like sphinxes, they walked with the voices of the ancestors, rising from beyond the veil on the night of Canboulay dla Shamhna.

Lagarhoo guards howled and snarled; the shifting of their shapes in constant flux as they appeared from out of nowhere to head the procession. Heavy, iron chains rattled behind them, rotten, wooden coffins balanced on their necks, cold, creeping mist curled around their hind legs, the fiendish wolf men of the spiral. Following behind them Soucouyant house slaves, with red and wicked eyes, cackled as they tore off their wrinkled flesh before bursting into balls of fire, the spectacle illuminating the darkness even as it darkened the heart with terror.

Emerging from the folds of shredded skin, the douens, lost souls of children who died before they were blessed, frolicked within the flame, the delights of the dark court. Their feet backwards and surrounded by scuttling, water crabs, their faces featureless and indistinguishable with the exception of one, small mouth, they frisked around the fires, their short, naked bodies neither male nor female. As they chortled and whimpered and whooped beneath wide-brim hats made of straw, the numen averted their eyes for fear, for the douens were the reason no child under the age of sixteen years could attend Carnival.

Luring children away from their homes at dusk and into the deep forest outside the city of Chaguanas until they were lost forever, the douens could charm and mesmerize even the most obedient child as long as it knew their name. It was for this reason no one called the names of children under sixteen on the night of Canboulay dla Shamhna, for all it took was a wondering douen to hear that name for the child to disappear, never to return. Behind them drifted La tanty Diablesse, the Devil Woman, lady-in-waiting of the Carnival Queen; eyes like burning coals in her hideous, corpse’s face, veiled and hidden beneath a broad-brimmed hat.

She wore an exquisite, embroidered blouse with billowing half sleeves and trembling pins of gold, and full, romantic skirts layered over long, rustling petticoats, under which the sound of chains mingling with the clip clop of her cloven hoof could be heard in the hush of the crowd. The undulous swing of supple hips could charm a man of god away from his maker, a husband from his wife, weaving a spell of desire and promise within the threads of his soul until they frayed with madness. Her feet brushing the road on which they walked, she moved as if floating, as if gliding over the ground.

Tall and poised, her heavy perfume melding with the scent of mildew and foetid flesh, she was the reason why female revellers clung to the arms of their consorts, as if fearing the men would disappear. She smiled for those men bewildered and damned by her seduction, led astray and left for dead. She smiled for the men before her now. Hanging from her wrist a small handbag filled with bones and shells and dirt, told tragic tales of past victims and places as she watched them all in amused and mocking pity.

Trotting behind La Diablesse on his own cloven hoofs, Papa Bois came into view, his antlered head and beard of growing leaves, and his short but powerful physique, incongruous with his elderly visage. Trousers tattered and aged, not unlike his face, he hobbled along, more animal than man, blowing long and loud on his bamboo horn with a wild boar by his side. Father of the Woods, Carnival King, fickle and temporal in being and behaviour, Papa Bois paused to scratch at his caprine fleece before gambolling off to catch his cloven sibling.

Then came the Queen, Mother of the Water, Mama Dlo, the eternal spirit of the spiral, who kept cool the head of the sphere with her ceaseless, quenching flow. Scooping an errant douen up into her arms, she bit off its head and feasted on it, her long, tangled locks turbulent as white-water rapids and just as lovely. She was delanami, demi-god; her upper body numen, naked and beautiful, her lower body serpentine, cold and treacherous. Striking her azure tail down upon the surface of the street, making a thunderous, snapping sound against the tarmac of the road, she surged and slid forth like venom in the vein, winding her way down to the stage, the remains of the child’s soul twitching in her hand. Body undulant and writhing, she sang a silent song, the Queen of Carnival.

And the numen shivered in horror and ecstasy.

Then, voices rising in the ancient tongue of vindisfrit, they hailed and welcomed the dark court with a fearsome exultation on the night of Canboulay dla Shamhna.

 

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Swaying off the wall, Sajhi held his head in both hands as a lancing pain tore through it, not unlike the one that had woken him. He had no intention of setting foot outside the alley, ill-equipped to deal with whatever spooky, supernatural phenomenon was taking place beyond its walls that had his people shrieking in tongues he had never once heard before. Hence why he squinted as Lebra walked pass the alleyway and stopped in the middle of the opening as if waiting for him to come to her. There was something odd about the way she acted and appeared. He could not identify it.

“Barry!” As if only now recognising him, she ran to meet him half-way, tailed by an infant apparition, even tinier than she, in the shadows of the alley. When they reached each other her eyes went at once to the swollen, purpling bruise that puffed out from the top of his jowl and down the side of his face. Her own face sobered. “He found you.”

BAAARRYYY!!” The loud whooping of the boy’s alias coming from the douen that had shadowed Lebra into the alleyway rang within their ears and minds, eerie and forlorn despite the childlike giggles that followed it. The sudden appearance of the devious, little soul sent chills down the children’s spines, and Sajhi flung up silent thanks to Tunukh that he had not shared his true name that night. He had heard more than enough horror stories from as far back as he could remember about the compelling tug within a child’s soul when he heard the douen call his name. And as more douens charged and swarmed the alley, summoned by the noisy cries of the one already there and the promise of another fated comrade, he knew he had to protect his own name above all else … even Lebra.

After all, Lebra was anything but an ordinary little girl, though she appeared numen; for all he knew she was just a different kind of douen he had yet to hear calling his real name. Looking at her now, looking at the douens curious and unafraid, he could easily believe that she was some kind of Eri creature come to spirit him away into the deep forest. And yet, he stepped between her and the ghost children, for it was also possible that this was the first time in her lifetime she had ever seen such sights, and perhaps she had not heard the stories as he had.

Staring at the faces peeking from beneath their large-brimmed hats, and their mouths curling like question marks at his resistance to the call, he spoke in low tones to Lebra.

“Don’t say yuh name. Don’t say any children name. Di douens them does tief yuh name and they go tief you, and they go eat yuh up. Jus’ like Mama Dlo does eat them.”

Who allyuh name?” the douens sang in rounds, chitter charming and eager to entice. “Come wey wit’ we nuh? Yuh gonna come wey wit we? Who yuh name?”

            “Don’t say nothing tuh them, and jus’ follow me.”

Lebra nodded, her elfin face grave and pinched with worry.

Flitting through the throng, pushing pass the revellers lining the side of the road and around the tall, tall leg of the moko jumbie standing right outside the entrance to the alley, Sajhi and Lebra made their way across the still empty street. Disappointed, the douens faded from the alleyway and made their way back to the platform with the rest of the company of souls. As soon as Sajhi was certain it was safe, he rounded on Lebra in urgency.

“Where it is there?”

Knowing exactly what he was referring to, the little girl did not hesitate as she opened the hidden pocket on the skirt of her dress and retrieved the gun.

Realizing that he was holding his breath, Sajhi released it, reaching for the firearm before his face softened with a thoughtful smile at Lebra.

“I’s di one that take di gun. I’s di one go be in trouble fuh it, or dead, if it come tuh that … Yuh had me worried, gyul. I was real fraid fuh yuh.”

A strange expression flittered over Lebra’s face before she returned his smile, genuine and warm.

“I’m staying with you next time.”

“Aite. But we can’t stay here so in one place fuh too long. Let we walk ’round lil bit,” Sajhi suggested, sliding the pistol into his pants pocket, mourning the loss of his favourite and only jacket. Then he added, frowning. “… Jus’ always be ready tuh run.”

 

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Bentin and Saeris gaped at the jumbies hovering tens of feet above their heads on stilt-like legs, and at the revellers all around them, their voices raised in a strange and alien patois. Lost in chant and bliss beyond all worldly measure, visitors from the Ythrosphyr and numen alike stood side by side, watching the Demesne dla Shamhna take to the stage. Terrified and on the verge of going to pieces, Bentin grasped at Saeris’ hand, as much to keep herself grounded as to keep her beloved mentor from vanishing into the dark: that rippling, prickling dark that chilled then went balmy then chilled again. Bentin shivered at the howl of the Lagarhoo as it tolled throughout the night.

Beside her, awed and overwhelmed and entranced as if in dream, Saeris swayed as the revellers chanted, and Bentin gripped the small hand in her own even tighter than before, turning to the sights on the stage. Soucoyant lit the platform, their blazing bodies like miniature comets frozen in mid-flight. Out of time and place, douens scampered in circles round the ritual and each other, much to the vexation of La Diablesse, who silenced them with a single stomp of her cloven hoof as she turned her attention to the centre of the stage.

There Papa Bois and Mama Dlo danced alone, they danced the dance of life itself, of love and death – entwined, enmeshed – mating like beasts ensnared without the possibility or want of escape. Lost in the web of belonging, in the rhythms of possession and their desire for physical pleasure, they loved – entrapped, enthralled – each the captive of the other, theirs a glorious desperation, a madness frightening and dark, a coupling intimate and sweet. This was the Great Rite between the King and Queen of Carnival, the divine union between the delanami of the Demesne dla Shamhna, the intercourse between the Ythrosphyr and the spiral itself.

As they continued to copulate on the platform, transmuting the secular stage into a sacred altar, Sajhi slipped through the crowd with Lebra by his side, feeling awkward and trying his best to keep his eyes off of it. What little he had already glimpsed only served to remind him of the words of his old mythstory teacher back at primary school – Mr Anderson Boyce – as he had tried in vain to explain the significance of Carnival to a young and curious Sajhi who couldn’t quite grasp it at that age.

Life is burden and death and mythstory; it is transformation and regeneration and rebirth; it is temptation and danger, and being fearless in the face of these, and using your voice despite your fears. It is about clinging to worlds you know even as you create new ones never before known, and becoming more than you were before; it is about seeing that which is unseen and understanding more than meets the eye. It is about indulgence and experience and moving worlds without leaving a mark; it is about the inside joke and the inside wisdom; the ebb and flow of the hips and the heart. It is frightening and thrilling; an adventure where you’re either the hero or the villain or both … and so is death … and so is sex. That is the dark court. That is Carnival. That is Canboulay dla Shamhna.

That was four years ago, and Sajhi still didn’t understand what any of it meant. That was also the year he had quit school and the children’s home wherein he had spent the first eight years of his life, running away to the city of Chaguanas to become a virtuoso at the slingshot and petty thievery. Lebra also kept her eyes off the stage, more due to her distaste of the act than her embarrassment at seeing it, and slid Sajhi a sidelong glance wondering at his preoccupation in the light of his dire circumstances. He looked at her the same time, face enflaming with a rush of blood.

“When di crowd go from here we go take a pass and carry yuh home too.”

Lebra shook the golden nimbus of her hair with a frown. “There is no need for you to do that. I will find my way home on my own.”

“Yuh small, yuh mannersless an’ yuh don’t even know where yuh liven. Yuh lookin’ fuh kidnap.”

The determination on Sajhi’s face was absolute, yet Lebra held her ground.

“I said I’m going home alone.”

            His casual shrug and easy smile let her know that her tone didn’t perturb him at all.

            “I nuh leavin’ yuh alone again na.”

Are you de -“

“Ow!!” rang out a high-pitched, childlike cry.

Lebra looked up into the face of the oversized version of herself she had crashed headfirst into as the petite four foot five woman stared down at her in surprise, the silken layers of her full-bodied tresses tumbling forward to envelop the little girl before her. Much to Lebra’s chagrin, Sajhi guffawed at her mistake, and the smugger he looked, the more embarrassed she became as she stuttered her apologies to Saeris.

“I’m sorry; I wasn’t looking where I was going.”

“Yuh blind, owah?” Sajhi chimed in, enjoying himself immensely.

Lebra levelled him with a venomous look that could melt the face off the moon, were it her unfortunate target, as Saeris assured her it was alright, and Bentin softened at the adorable bickering between the young boy and the little girl. Turning towards the street exit, an empty alley-way on their left, the women began to walk away from the two small children and were almost half-way down the alley when they heard a shout, a scream, the pattering of tiny feet. They turned to see the children panic-stricken and pelting towards them, pursued by a darksome figure.

After everything she had seen that night, Bentin almost turned to run herself, to drag Saeris by the hand back to the orb with her, the eerie night left forgotten and far behind them. However, the helpless plea in Sajhi’s terrified eyes stayed her, and she shoved Saeris behind her with one arm as she reached for the children. As they stumbled to a halt before her, she looked beyond them towards the form moving within the shadows. Frantic, she noticed Sajhi’s bruised face for the first time.

“What’s happening? Who is that?” she asked the boy, pulling him aside as she hugged Lebra to herself.

Sajhi looked up at her face, into eyes that echoed his own powerlessness and knew he had condemned them all; his sweat and tears, streaming rivulets of regret down his face, on the night of Canboulay dla Shamhna.

Copyright © 2014 Knicky L. Abbott. All rights reserved.


This is the first chapter of Nescada: Kindler of Flames, exclusively available on this website!


 

THE ECHO OF FALLING SNOW

Present. 87,500 FA

Moon Lurei. Castle Losgunna

          What is the nature of white? Is it the absence of colour or the culmination of it? Is it the innocence of a flower or is it the death of the moon at the end of each day? Is it the ice of snow or is it the fire of sand? Is it the silver edge of soul and vision or the dulled and blunted neath-lands of a mind devoid of colour? White is a mystery and Taerah Talavereis is its truth … its breath … and its song … She who Her people have entitled “Gamut Obscura Requiem” … the purity of death … the fire of the damned … the spirit of ice itself …

A vast space filled with crisp, frosted air, like every other room in the Castle Losgunna, this was the throne room of Taerah Talavereis. At the end of the pale blue carpet stretching from the entrance of the door to the very back of the room was Her silver throne, with its gem-enclustered frame, jewel-stoned knobs and soft blue velvet cushions. Here She sat, Her poise so perfect, almost lifeless, Her eyes so emotionless, that it would have startled anyone had Her lips parted and She begun to speak. That, however, did not happen. Instead, it was impossible to discern whether She was observing or listening to the nervous guard before her, or as it often was, to something else far away within Herself.

Xaeviere Moigersavoi finished his status report on the Lureian Military’s Combat Training Regime’s progress and stood resolute, waiting for Taerah to either respond or dismiss him. While he waited he took in Her countenance, with the care and propriety befitting Her divinity. Taerah still stared at him, but whether past him or into him, he could not be sure. Then Her eyes focussed on him for the first time, and She nodded Her head in acknowledgement of his report.

“You may go.”

Xaeviere took in a controlled breath, bowed, and left. The moment he neared the door, his heart released its deep, suspended throb. Her voice was stunning … a rustle in the air … hush and innocence … dreams and softness … like the echo of falling snow. Shaking himself loose of his inappropriate thoughts, and focussing his mind on the evening meal to come, he walked away from the throne and exited through the grand, quartz doors, taking perfunctory note of their blue diamond knobs.

Taerah’s eyes followed the receding back of the guard. She had barely paid attention to what he had said and no attention to him at all. He had wild hair; that was about all She could remember. Something about his eyes had caused Her to focus in on him for a moment, but She couldn’t define what or why.

She did not need to know the status of the Lureian Military’s Combat Training Regime. She did not need the military at all. She was a Goddess. What good would any army stand against Her power? Why send innocent men to be harmed or killed, while She sat on a throne doing nothing, when She could annihilate most threats to Her kingdom Herself, without the aid of another? She did not need Her army. She knew it, as did they. But they were kindredmen who loved their Goddess and training to fight for Her was what gave them purpose. Chances were though, it would be Her coming to their rescue if She sent them out, rather than the other way around. So She sat through the mind-numbing military status reports; She sat through people and their incessant words; She sat through entire days, waiting for the one thing, the one person that would call Her focus and break the ice.

Xaeviere arrived at the military base wondering whether to spend time on extended combat training, going for a meditative walk around the grounds or taking a short nap in his personal chamber before the evening meal. Deciding that his spirit was too disquieted for meditation, that he had spent the majority of his free time every day for the last five months doing extended training and that the meal would most likely last into the early hours of the next day, he headed for Midair Hall – a block of modest apartments which housed soldiers of his status – the brawn of the Lureian Armed Forces. Other blocks on the compound – Welkin Hall and Archane Hall – housed the stealth and intuitive sectors of the army.

Xaeviere made his way through a wide passageway of smooth blue stone, passed the Military Strategies Assembly Room on the left, made a sharp turn to the right and climbed the wide, curving, stone staircase to the vast lodges above and his quarters within. Entering his access-only code into the security checkpoint in the wall beside the door to his room, his eyes and senses scanned the hallway for any sign of life. Walking past the long seat which occupied most of his still-space, he headed for his sleeping room with bathing cell en suite. Sitting on the edge of his master cot, he removed one navy-blue, calf-high boot, and then the other. In one fluid move he stretched out on the length of the bed, scooting back on his arms to rest his head against his hard, little pillow, before closing his eyes and floating into restful unconsciousness.

        An undulating, dark-water atmosphere surrounds him, muted and soft. He is sustained and suspended, weightless as the wing of an angel. The only sound in the hush is the tinkle of unfamiliar laughter, warm and sweet. Without warning, strands of silvery white hair drift around him, luminescent, shimmering and delicate, gliding in the ebb and flow of the ambiance within which he floats. He whirls to be greeted by … no one. Laughter grows more joyous and rich with mischief, a secret slipping away. He twirls faster and faster, breath coming faster, heart beating faster, glimpsing the flash and shadow of female form moving even more swiftly than he. All at once, she is in his arms, her skin silky and cool, like that of the maedes dla mer, the sea creatures of Olden Verse mythstory, her face a vision igniting desire so intense he can do nothing more than gaze at her in rapt wonder, lest he ravish her in wild abandon. Neither time nor mortality stirs in the watery mist in which they now swirl in a dance. The space between them glints lilac when struck by the moonlight glow of her profile, as the dream fades to an end.

Taerah’s lashes fluttered open revealing eyes the cold pale colour of ice. Confusion and uncertainty replaced Her impassive gaze, marring Her otherwise dispassionate composure. She had never dreamt before in all Her immortality. While She had walked in the dreams of others, and brought entire dreams to wonderful, glorious life, never until that moment could She lay claim to a dream of Her own.

Already fading from Her memory, like the light of a distant star slipping beneath a dark horizon, only one fragment lingered, and this She held gingerly to Her heart. A goddess who had never smiled in all Her existence, who could not recall one single moment of true happiness, for the first time heard Her own laughter flowing out from the depth of Herself like a song. Yet, something else touched the surface of Her mind, before it too left Her consciousness. In that dream, She was not alone, and whoever was with Her felt … familiar.

Dragging herself away from mindless reverie, she sat up on her bed, breathing calm. As precious as they were, dreams were nothing to shake her self-possession and now no time remained to dwell on it any longer. She had an evening meal to prepare for; and as she went about willing into being all the things she needed to ready herself, she ignored the feelings of excitement and apprehension coursing through her veins. Indeed, as the wide-collared white cape of sheet ice, with its snow-cloud lining and the crescent moon of her kingdom’s sigil materialized around her – a mere creation of her will – she knew not what they were.

Copyright © 2014 Knicky L. Abbott. All rights reserved.

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