Her knees crack and pop as she kneels down upon the ground. The action causes her pain, but there is nothing she will not suffer for success. Her gnarled hands split and her nails tear as she digs through the ice crusted snow down into the dirt. As her blood spills, she feels her power blooming. Down, down into the earth she digs, mixing her blood with the soil. It’s too cold to become muddy, but she achieves a concentrated slurry, which is better suited to her purpose anyway. Her acolytes are waiting, buckets in hand, and they sink down into the snow beside her to help her to fill them to the brim. Slowly, inch by agonizing inch, the vessels are filled, radiating her power. The acolytes bite open the pads of their thumbs, and plunge them into their buckets, mixing their blood with hers. Once complete, they help the Crone gently to her feet. Quickly, before the wounds can clot, she makes her mark upon their brow, completing the circle of three. The Maiden, the Mother, and the Crone. The eternal cycle of birth and rebirth, and the most successful combination in their game of Ascension. If they succeed, eternal life will be theirs for the taking.
‘You know what to do?’ she croaks, her voice made husky and broken by the cold.
‘Yes.’ says one.
‘We will follow the plan exactly.” agrees the other.
‘There can be no mistakes. Not in this place. The ground is rich in their blood. Years of it, untold amounts of it, have permeated every inch of this land. Never before has anyone attempted anything of this magnitude. When we succeed, I will grant all that I have promised you. And more. Much more. Begin the collection. I will create the vessels. And then I will meet with the chieftain.’
The acolytes disappear into the dead foliage, headed to opposite sides of the territory. Each with their own ground to cover. The Crone heads into its heart, the bucket banging against her legs. Each agonizing step is blissful torture. There is nothing she won’t suffer for success.
His wife’s final words, a curse in the blood.
His son’s broken body. The sea of his life spilling on the floor.
The dagger buried to the hilt, sheathed in his heart.
His daughter’s head on the flag stones
His vision fading.
Her terrible face.
The Prophet bolted upright in his bed, ripping the covers from himself and his wife. Anahita reached out for him, but he was already across the room, hopping on one foot as he forced his shoes on in a hurry.
‘What’s wrong my love?’ she asked, her voice thick with sleep.
He halted his flight just long enough to pick the coverlet off the floor and tuck it around his precious wife.
‘The succession.’ I curse you for ever bringing me to this place! ‘I have to stop it.’
He tucked her gently in, kissed her deeply and swept from the room, grabbing his traveling robe.
Stopping once more, he willed himself to stay still, to savor this view, as he looked in upon his slumbering children. Yiska’s blood upon the floor They slept peacefully, the sounds of their gentle breathing reaching his ears. Shadi’s eyes, like glass His panic reached a crescendo and he fled, racing down the halls to the mouth of the Nest.
She will be chosen. Her face The tribute she brings is too immense, too impressive to award the throne to another. Laughing She’ll convince the King not to abolish her vessels until after the ceremony is over. Once she is changed she will kill their King. Mocking Reward her Coven. Enslave the Nest. His vision fading Then comes war. Her terrible face And death. Triumphant And worse than death.
The Prophet is a man of peace, a man of kindness. Today, he is neither. Today, he is only Kassim Sharazad, a man out for blood.
The dagger buried to the hilt, sheathed in his heart Knowing his King will do nothing to interfere, he must be the one to stop her and her deceitful coven. Opening a portal to Travance, Kassim steps though, vowing to do no less than the Crone. Success. At any cost.
What lengths would you go to?
What are you willing to sacrifice?
What price is too high?
Will you succeed?
At what cost?