In addition to releasing this new artwork, I toyed with the idea of sharing a new excerpt. However, this one, which has been on Wattpad for a while, actually served as a key inspiration for the piece. I see it as most fitting, then, and also the least “spoileriffic”. A new excerpt of a different nature will be shared with my audience on May 15 at the Bathurst Clark Resource Library, with the speech scheduled for 1:50PM, should you be in the neighbourhood for a live author’s reading.
Alathea had prepared most of her meeting look when she realized that she had some personal housekeeping to attend. She found an ornately decorated dagger sharp enough for the purposes of cutting a rope. From her room, she climbed a set of stairs leading to a cliffside balcony.
She realized that having a prisoner in a state of Atonement might not be well understood by the guests she would one day expect. It was best to cut the rope of the frame and let the prisoner’s remains be dashed on the rocks below, and let the typically violent surf around those rocks clean up anything left from the fall.
But when she reached the balcony, she was surprised to hear a moaning sound.
She carefully put the blade of the dagger next to the loop of the rope, which was tied to the finely carved yet sturdy fall-guard railing; there were subtle marks from where other ropes had been cut through in the past.
“You’re still alive down there, aren’t you?” She gazed out upon the sea but spoke to the prisoner.
Another moan, just barely audible above the sound of waves crashing. One would have to be standing on the balcony, right at the fall-guard, to hear it.
Alathea smiled. “That leaves me quite impressed. Did you know that in the time since your people submitted to me, I have sailed out of port, slain a Longneck, and returned triumphant? And all the while, you were still alive.”
She was tense near the loop of the rope with the dagger, but she ascertained that the moan of response was no closer. It was enough of a feat that this clan leader should still live and breathe after that length of time, but the strength expended in keeping himself alive was strength he no longer had to climb the ropes, even if he could somehow free himself of them without falling to the rocks below.
The ritual preparations for Atonement tended to rule out ever being able to climb the ropes, let alone free oneself of them.
“I don’t know why you cling to life, but you make me happy. Now we can have this conversation together.” Alathea said.
Prisoners were physically broken before their Atonement, and proper symbolic marking and branding was meant to stop them from using sorcery to escape. While they might sway a bit in the wind, they were positioned such that the waves filled their view, with perhaps a glimpse of the sky above the water.
“Do you know that even a Goddess feels humility? We of flesh and blood must always understand powers greater than ourselves, even those of us who are divine vessels. The right thing for you to have done was submit to my greatness. I hope you’ve taken this time to understand what a small being you are, and the consequences of your arrogance. I really should leave you there, to keep learning the virtue of humility.”
A defeated moan sounded again, from farther away if possible; weaker, rather. Even if his speech blockage had come loose, if his jaw happened to have been broken during the ritual preparations, it never had a chance to heal.
She knew it was impractical not to cut him down, but after all, that would kill him. Alathea felt out of place doing that. She needed not to be herself in order to put him out of his misery, and for that, she needed her other face. That was back in her room, which was fortunately close.
But she doubted he was aware of all that.
“The Tides are great and eternal. They rose and fell in cycle when the first creature was born, and they will topple every mountain in time. Remain in awe of their greatness.” She turned and took loud steps down from the balcony to her room, hoping her footfalls were audible, hoping his very heart would stop with despair.
He managed to live that long, though, so she would return with mask and dagger to cut the rope.