“The blood will rise.” She picked up her sword and hefted it thoughtfully. What had her father meant? Was there killing in the future? Ancestry? She had no context – he had come to her in a dream. A ghostly visitation of the sort she would usually ignore. But not tonight. The gods were awake tonight.
She opened the shutters and looked out onto the town square, full of fireworks and festivities. Homemade paper dragons circled merrily around shrieking children, giggling in mock terror. They were celebrating death – a life-giving death, Moloch the Corruptor defeated once and for all. She smiled sadly. They would never know the true price, she thought. In wars, there are more who must die than demons.
It had looked impossible. From the left, apologists had refused to surrender their childish faith in the dignity of all creatures, and the wisdom of peace at any price. From the right, Moloch’s shock troops viciously suppressed any hint of a brighter future. She had fought long and hard, exhausting herself to squeeze a path out of unyielding society. And in the end it was only by the grace of Nione that she survived, let alone triumphed.
She bowed her head in prayer.
“I am sorry, Nione,” she prayed, “for my imperfections. I have been disloyal. Faithless. I have forgotten my oaths.”
She felt the warmth in her chest, as she always did when the goddess was listening. It was against Nione’s nature to forgive, but she accepted her servant’s apology in the spirit it was meant – as a gift of sacrifice.
“I thank you for the blessings you have bestowed on me, and I will double my efforts to proclaim your glory in the coming year. My people – my heart – belong to you, Nione. All my glory belongs to you. My shame will be burned in your cool flame. This I pray. Farewell.”
And the lights went out.
All of them, across the square. She could feel her own heartbeat, but that was all the indication that any time was passing. The world was stillness and silence.
“My pet,” said the woman on the throne,” Do you trust me?”
She prostrated herself. “You know I do, my lover. I will trust you as far as the end of the sky.”
“Will you kill for me, pet?” said the golden woman.
“My life is yours,” she whispered. “I will kill for you.”
“Will you bury your secrets for me?” said the cold-eyed goddess.
“I will bury my story so deep even the gods will never find it,” she said. “Is that what you ask of me?”
“I ask for Justice,” said Nione, goddess of storms. “My heart burns for a reckoning – for a bringer of righteousness. My so-called worshippers wallow in the muck and expect my shamelessness to absolve them. Make no mistake – I would rather burn my city to the ground than see it turned into a cesspool of idleness and corruption.”
She trembled. The earth shook beneath her. The skies were open.
“The blood will rise,” she whispered. “Then I am to be your butcher?”
The flame on the throne smiled. “No, pet. You are to be my knife.”
It took her an hour to stop shaking, and another to come back to herself.
She closed the shutters, lit a torch, and began to prepare.