myself, Seel Griselming and my colleague Orien Farnell."
He raised his arms above his head and the soft white cloth of his sleeves slipped back. Henna patterns were painted on his skin; designs similar to those beneath my knees. "Does the Harhune take place?!" he demanded and a mighty, "Aye!" shook the walls. They blessed me with fire, with water, earth and air, ripped my robe to below my shoulders and wrote on my skin. Henna again, aromatic and gritty. Seel's voice was gutteral; I could not understand what he said, but the crowd were mouthing silently along with him, howling the responses, half-rising from their seats in excitement. I hated to think of Cal being one of them, but he kept creeping into my mind. I kept thinking, "They want my blood, they want my blood," but, of course, the opposite was true. They wanted me to have theirs. This was their ceremony. Mine was yet to come.
Hours later, moments later, two young hara, sparkling in white and gold, came out of the smoky dark at the back of the hall. Soft cloth falling to their feet made them glide like ghosts. One carried a shallow metal dish, his companion holding out the instruments of my hair's death. Seel was before me. He raised my head with a firm hand. "The Shicawm, Pellaz. Be still." I could not shudder but my teeth ached, I had clenched them so. Cold metal touched my brow and I shut my eyes. The sound was terrible, sickening. I could feel it all falling away and hear the silvery swish as it landed on the shallow dish. So quick. It was gone. "Open your eyes," Seel told me, barely audible. It was like looking at an execution. Under my nose, long black locks spilled over the plate, still adorned with waxen, wilted lilies. I half expected to see blood and a thread of hysteria cracked the numbness. It was an effort not to reach up and touch my head. I started to shiver then.
Hands were upon my shoulders and I shook beneath their warmth. Light flared up ahead of me and the dark rafters of the Nayati loomed above, suddenly visible, encrusted with gargoyles who laughed and screamed forever in silence. Tall metal stands made an avenue, topped by filigreed bowls of incense; smoke so heavy it drifted downwards in matted shrouds. At the end a white table gleamed like marble; and beyond that?
A slim reed of light opening out like a flower. Tall, A halo of fiery red-gold hair. An angel. A demon. The hienama. (I heard Seel gasp: "Him? Him?!," urgent with surprise, and Orien's sober answer: "I know.") The congregation crooned once more, upon their knees, and the hienama moved; arms peeling out from his sides, one stretched straight, the other slightly curved, his body half turned toward me. I should have known then who he was. But it took years and years, and even then somebody had to tell me. He never tried to deceive anyone, they were just blind, I think. Looking back, it was obvious. He was more than all of them, and he knew about me. He put his mark on me that day, made me his pawn, but, like I said, it took years for him to put me into play.
I was lifted to my feet. Led forward. No, carried. My legs would not work and my feet dragged as if my ankles were broken. As we went toward him, he grew. Not in actual height, but in magnificence. Slanting, gold-flecked violet eyes lasered straight to my soul. Fire seemed to burn in his hair and flicker over his skin. Nahir-nuri. He had the compassion of a vivisectionist.
They lifted me onto the stone table and all I could do was look at him. (Cold bit into me; the caress of a sepulcher.) His voice is almost impossible to describe. It was full of music but with darker tones, like the sound of gunfire or shatterable things that were breaking. "Welcome, Pellaz. I am Thiede." Like night falling, black draperies softly descended. There was a sound like falling snow, hardly a sound at all, more a feeling, and the crowd could no longer see us. Only Orien and Seel remained. He signaled to them, tying his own arm
Victoria Christopher Murray