Soul Sanctuary

By Susan Faw

Fantasy, Action & adventure, New adult fiction, Hybrid & other, Young adult

Paperback, eBook

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4 mins


This is not your fight. Let them die!

The army rolled out of the southern plains and into the short hills, a river of red-coated lava swirling through the valley base. The push of soldiers clogged the narrows, splashing up onto the hillsides and coating the passes in a crimson crust of death.

The Primordial runners peered down at the roiling mass of men from their perch high atop an abandoned eagle’s nest, wedged in a towering deciduous tree which clung to the northern edge of the pass. The crown of the treetop camouflaged their lookout while providing an unimpeded view of the undulating scene below.

As one, the runners shimmied down from their perches and ghosted into the dense cover of squat pine, the thick carpet of needles providing silent footing as they ran. Of all the passes to approach, this was the worst, the most feared by the Primordial Chiefs, as the civil war left the defending clans stretched to the limit.

Indeed, some defenders had abandoned their posts, their fear over the rumoured fate of their kin overcoming their desire to fight. Whispers of villages emptied and entire families snatched away by unknown forces had caused a swelling defection within the forward units of tribal defenders. It was so rampant that the Chieftains now arrested those who attempted desertion and handed them over to the priests, rather than admit that the Flesh Clan defenders were cowards.

The Primordial priests were only too happy to receive the disaffected clansmen, as they had their own mandate to fulfill.

In a solitary camp perched high on the side of the Wailing Mountain, deep within the pass, the disloyal were marched with hands tightly bound in front, a never-ending stream of clansmen. The guards assigned to this duty delivered their prisoners swiftly and without delay, wishing to be away from the encampment full of shivering, wild-eyed priests. The priests’ camp never slept except during the daylight, the time from dusk to dawn alive with the scurrying holy men.

Late into the night, the screams of the sacrifices howled through the encampment, flooding down to the tents below, the souls of the sacrifices dancing in the flames of their campfires, confirming the transfer to those who would continue the fight.

Primordial High Priests, clothed in cloaks comprised of leathery-patched skins of unknown origins and embedded with eagle feathers, raised bloody knives to the sky and chanted. The bleeding of the sacrifices was a delicate thing. Too little bleeding and the sacrifices would go into shock before the transfer was complete; too much bleeding and the soul would be lost.

A bare-chested apprentice with only one eagle feather bound to each tattooed arm dipped a hollowed gourd into a basin of potion warming on hot rocks at the edge of the firepit. Carefully, he carried the gourd, brimming with liquid, over to the naked, blindfolded woman staked out spread-eagle on the ground at the edge of the flickering light. With one hand, he pinched her cheeks so that her mouth was forced into an O shape then tipped the contents of the gourd into it.

He plugged her nose, forcing her to swallow convulsively while she thrashed in her bonds. The blindfold slipped, and the woman’s furious eyes stabbed into the apprentice. Then, with the last of her strength, she spat the remains of the potion back in his face. With a scream, he stumbled away from the woman, frantically wiping it off. Everywhere the potion landed, it bubbled and hissed. Blisters erupted, large red swellings bubbling under the skin. They popped and oozed, drying instantly. Within seconds her skin withered, cracking and curling into drifts that feathered to the ground, even while the woman’s eyes rolled back in her head.

Blood bloomed where the curls of skin had been, to run in rivulets that joined larger flows. The High Priests crowded around the woman’s corpse and caught the blood dripping from her body in gleaming bone vessels. Once the bowls were full to the brim, the High Priests began a rhythmic chant, waving a hollowed rainstick carved with runes over the bowls, seducing the spirit of the blood sacrifice and binding it to the blood for transfer into a new vessel.

The woman’s heart pumped valiantly as the last of its life force seeped to the surface. With a final shudder, she relaxed in her bonds, sagging limply in the ropes suspending her body.

The priests turned their backs on the empty shell, and the chanting rose in pitch, calling forth the spirit of the dead woman. Wisps of movement danced on the surface of the bowls of blood, thickening then dissipating, and formed once again, a shadowed impression of a red face floating above the surface of the vessels.

They walked past the line of shivering men, kneeling at the edge of the firelight, arms bound behind their backs, awaiting their turn to serve the High Priests. All of them averted their eyes, hoping to not be chosen, hoping that they would be executed in the normal fashion. Beheading was preferable to being bled to death in their eyes. A whimper escaped the mouth of one of the deserters, as his courage failed once again. With a jerk on his bindings, he was hauled to his feet by two burly apprentices. He howled as he was dragged toward the sacrificial pit.

The High Priests paid no attention to the commotion, transfixed on the process at hand. Their chanting grew louder, the rhythm faster as they approached a small animal tied to a metal stake driven deep into the ground. On closer inspection, a bear cub peered up at the approaching priests, licking its lips hungrily. The priests placed the bowls before the cub, chanting in a singsong voice that soothed it.

Once the priests backed away, the cub sniffed at the offering and then began to lap up the blood thirstily. The priests’ song shrieked, assailing the ears of the watchers as the bear drank until all the blood was gone.

Suddenly, the song ceased. A gong was sounded, once, twice, three times. As the sound faded from the third gong, the cub roared.

A vortex formed around the cub, spinning and swirling, dragging soil into its maelstrom as it arose, faster and faster, tiny bolts of energy sparking within the cloud, which grew into a funnel then into a tornado, which picked up the cub and whirled it about. Bolts of lightning stabbed the ground and the priests stepped back, hands covering their faces as the sand stung their skin, whipping their eagle feathers until they mocked flight.

With a great clap of thunder and a blinding flash of light, everything stilled. As the dust cleared, a body was revealed, curled into a ball on the ground. Slowly, it unfurled and rose to its feet.

A muscular woman stood before them, ten feet tall with a face that hinted at the bear cub, but fully human in form. A ruff of tawny hair curled past her broad shoulders. She was clad in a tight-fitting leather jerkin and leggings with a sheath for a great sword strapped to her hip.

Artio sniffed the air with a feral toothy grin and rumbled in the celestial voice of the gods, “Bow to me.”

As one, the Primordial clansmen and High Priests fell to the ground, their faces pressed to the earth.

Artio drew her lips back and bared her long incisors in a parody of a smile and then bellowed with pleasure.



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