Chapter One ~ Liora

 

Winter seeped up from the floor of the tomb where I lay, and I wondered if it had already taken Effie. I slid closer to her but dared not touch her, afraid that I would find her dead.

 

Our feeble peat fire sputtered, and Effie jolted awake. She sat up, shaking as she gazed around the shadowed chamber. Finally, she turned to me, and her eyes widened in horror, as if I were a beast. She yanked her worn shawl over her face, hunkered down in the ragged tartans, and mewled like a dying kitten.

 

Molten grief burned my cheeks, and I buried my face in the blankets, too, because every available choice led to disaster. We had run out of places to hide. Our scarce fuel was nearly gone, and a sea-born storm rocked the hill, pelting sleet that rattled against the stones of the tomb. If I could not find fuel, we would freeze to death before morning. Although I was content to simply close my eyes on this life, I could not make that decision for Effie. It was my doing that had brought her here. 

 

Chapter Four ~ Vapors

 

The fleshy path sucked at my bare feet, tepid as a cooling corpse. Despite my revulsion, I marveled that my physical body perceived the foulness of the dream. Although Trefor walked beside me, I could barely see him through the murk, and I wondered how he knew to guide us to the pit.

 

Even in that lightless place, the pit yawned blacker than black, like a hole in the soul. A single vein of bilious light snaked through the darkness to reveal a scape of misery. The bottom of the crater lay pocked and blasted, as if gouged by great acid tears. Nothing but the sentient wickedness stirred, not even Effie, who stood naked, like a woebegone statue amidst the desolation. 

 

Chapter Seven ~ Sweet Duplicity

 

Luan’s delicate hoofs chimed upon the frozen path, implying merriment where there was none. The pearly trail spun out before us, a trick of the setting shard of moon. If anyone saw us, I suspect they made the sign against evil. For if ever an apparition rode a winter morning, it was me all bundled in my snowy woolen cloak. Raven tresses fringed my pale face, my teal eyes dominated my face, and my ghost horse made music in the frost. A thrill rippled through my body, and I shivered. For the first time in my life, I was free of the world’s relentless expectations.

 

Chapter Sixteen ~ Exorcising Effie

 

Nethara had chosen her place well, for it was foul to the extreme. I took it to be a ruin of some kind, dilapidated and half buried in the earth. The hall was choked with refuse, and slime oozed out of the cracks between the rocks. Nightmares sat on the shelves in jars and dark vials of things that looked dismembered. Baskets held bird wings, bones, and all manner of dead insects. Her cages held squawking birds and hissing cats, and dried creatures hung on the wall. This woman was exactly who the church thought we all were. 

 

© 2015 Kitty Roxanna Connell

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