Sunday, 5 November 2017

The second of my many entries for this year's Pod and Planet. The first eight are all very short fictions, entered in the 'Eight Thousand Suns in New Eden' category. This one is 746 words.

Written in scars and skin

You press your hands up to the cool glass. The fingers are splayed, so that each individual knuckle burns white in your dusky skin. There, the bonding mark of your wife’s clan, three rings about each knuckle; a bond of steel, song, and soul, and there, your own, the Yetamo’s fire; wisdom and knowledge and secrets. An auspicious mix, the shaman claimed.

He never did explain why..

Your forearms loom before you, corded muscle and old wounds. You have wrought great good, and great evil, with these hands. Your tattoos tell your story.. Here, a Khumaak, for the sevenfold blows you have struck against the Amarr; here, the Helmet of Pator, for the defence of the Matari. Drupar’s face, upon your hands. A life devoted to destruction.

It was your life. You kneel.

In purest black, shattered shackles upon your ankles, your wrists, your throat: a slave, free. Blood drops: you killed your masters. Another act of destruction.

Was it all you had done?

You sit, before the mirror. Your feet, torn, burned, scarred. Staring at back you, curling languidly around your toes, the Yetamo. Male and Female, a matched pair. Hidden truths, and hidden lies. A matched pair, for a dualist nature.

Except you’d never done anything other than destroy. Why had that tattoo been marked upon you?

You rise again and stretch, to examine your back. Deep scars, from hurried surgeries, bullet wounds and floggings, and once, a Slaver hound’s claws. Around the claw marks, poisonous blossoms, and thorns. Your wife’s choice, oh, what a waste.

You tighten your hands reflexively. Your muscles bulge. All you do is destroy.

Around you, your wardens shift. One of them draws out the knife. You look away, searing your seared chest with a fiery gaze. A line of glistening circular burns criss-cross it, like craters on the moons. You lean back and the light catches them, the burns from candles lit “to bring you closer to God”. You had sent that man to his God, as you burned down his estate.

These were the actions that wars required, and you had done them all, all too well.

Around your burns twist more tattoos. Your wife, your children… Fanged Corovids, wings outstretched. A flock of carrion-bird, for her carrion-maker, her provider. A tool; a threat. You had been both. No longer, yes, now, no longer.

Your wardens twist around you once more, and the knife is passed to the Elder himself.

Gracing your shoulders, the bars of rank you had been so proud of. Each drop of blood and breath of glory immortalised in skin and inlaid ink. A rank that made you famous, in the circles you move: A rank that made you dangerous, to the people you move with.

At last, you meet your own eyes. Embers, once flames, rest within them. Dominating your forehead, the mark of the Wolf. Three triangles: an ancestral fear. Your voluval, your destiny, your ‘soul’. A beast. Is that all you are doomed to be? Blinding hunger and ravening death. Around the wolf’s mark, the war tattoos stir. Thick black lines on your ash-dark face, white sclera and midnight pupils. A demon, to haunt the Amarr. A guardian, to defend Pator.  

Finally, beneath that, your name, now destroyed. Your clan, now dead. Your tribe, now lost. What destruction, what devilry, what devastation you have wrought.

Your wardens leave you, and the Elder steps forwards, the curved knife held out handle-first. You listen to the judgement, and it is all that you deserve. To be destroyed, and to be used. Your fires extinguished, and rekindled. The wardens bring a brazier before you, and you begin to comprehend.

You kneel and you nod. You take the long, cruel flensing knife, and begin to cut. Wrist to elbow, elbow to shoulder. Now peel it back, as you scalped your master. Cast it into the flame. It belonged to some other man. Now, swap hands. The blood will make it slippery, but the blade is sharp, and the handle is bone. Slice in, peel back, slice off. Repeat. Now, your legs. From ankle, up calf, around thigh. Peel, slice. Thigh, pelvis, slice. Repeat with your other leg. The pain is distant, and the flame is bright. This is how you live, this is how you die.

If you live, you will be forgotten. If you die, you will be forgotten. Thus is the fate of a Valklear. Thus is a fate of the kinslayer.

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