by Koiwa Shishiko (小岩 獅神) (mirrors http://s2b2.livejournal.com/307007.html) August chose a window on the thirtieth floor instead of a bird’s nest on the roof, favoring, as he tended to, a better network signal over a wider visual range. The office’s lights were off to hide his position, but his vision brightened automatically and allowed him to […]
He dreamed that she was running free through the green fields that led to the beach just to the west, her claws throwing grass torn from the earth and then sand. She turned and stopped to look back at him; she was holding a dead snake in her jaws.
“Avi, come back,” he called. But she play-lunged in the direction she was so keen to, the snake flopping ridiculously in her mouth, and so he followed.
She went to the edge of the dry sand where it became wet, and to his alarm she kept going. She ran to meet the next wave and leapt over it, and then she was swimming out into the low tide. He called for her over and over, his voice growing hoarse, and before he lost sight of her entirely he took a deep breath and ran into the water after her. He was not a great swimmer, but the sea was kind to him, holding him up to the surface instead of flinging him back to land.
They came to an island. Avi trotted up onto the wet rock and shook herself out, and then she carefully laid the snake down. She sat back on her haunches and stared at it intently. He stared too. It felt natural, expected, when the snake relaxed and uncurled its death-stiffened body and flicked its tongue at them. The three held their strange secret council, and he saw that Avi was looking at him now, her soft eyes wide and eager.
Set woke where he had fallen, exhausted from the grief that had drawn his entire body into his sobbing. He stared at the violent gash of the stars above him, and he understood. He groped for the loose soil underneath him with hands still dirty from laying it; he dug like a dog himself. Several feet down he found her, and he carefully, so carefully, pulled Avi free. He brushed the dirt from her fur and pulled off his coat to carry her in.
“I’ll find it,” he said. He was crying again. “Thank you.”
According to tradition, a bird offered to God in His shrine was to be killed by way of having its neck broken and its head twisted free of its body, but in modern times this had come to be seen as unnecessarily cruel. The current manner of sacrifice called for a hooked sakin to be pushed into the juncture between the bird’s throat and breast with a measure of precision that most laypeople were incapable of; Aryeh had been trained in it from a very young age. When he was a child, he’d felt intensely bad killing the perfect white doves the Temple bred for this purpose. The priests told him that it was good that he sympathized with the small and the helpless, because it meant he would be a good king. He could now issue the killing thrust without even having to look at the bird, and he was grateful for that.
Today, however, this was the thought that gave him pause. He checked the blade for flaws with his thumb mechanically and took up the dove that was handed to him, and even as he recited the words begging God to forgive them all for unknowing sins committed, he thought, it’s a blessing that I no longer have to look at its eyes. He stopped nearly in mid-word. He looked down at the dove in his hand. It looked back up at him, docile, knowing nothing else.
The priest at his shoulder cleared his throat. “Your Highness?” he whispered.
Hannah was born in the city of the Shrine of Asa, some two hours north of the capital by train. She had never seen Omri before her wedding; the country of Giveah had been occupied by the Asturian Empire for nearly thirty years, and all the rail systems had been seized and the roads closely monitored. But the Empire had grasped beyond its reach, and the king of Giveah negotiated a peaceful transfer of power back to his family barely two weeks after he relieved his mother of regency. He had been fifteen years old. He was seventeen now.
Matthew found the shop with little trouble, but at first he entertained the possibility that he was mistaken. He paced the opposite side of the street, he watched cars pass by, he watched the lights change. When the sun dipped behind the buildings and foot traffic between the metro stations picked up, warm yellow lights were lit inside the shop and those that lined the street with it. It glinted off glass faces and gold buckles, and it slid down glossed leather like water. There were worse things to be mistaken about, he decided, and he crossed the street and entered the shop.
She looked young, with long dark hair and uncovered breasts, and loops of what looked like blue and green silk floating around her without actually clothing her. She was suspended within the water perfectly, like a fish, neither fighting her weight nor her buoyancy, and she smiled at Emelie like she had a secret she was dying to share. She spread her arms, long and pale, glittering with strange jewelry, and make a beckoning gesture. Emelie could not see her legs.
“Have no fear,” the angel said in soft French. “God hath naught but the deepest gratitude for thee.”