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Two Years Later
The ringing in Katera's ears grew louder, and she knew the Voice would soon break through. She pulled the long, narrow Shalpacan wrap off her shoulders and cinched it around her head, but it didn't help. The ringing was inside, in her mind. She shook her head vigorously, hoping to spin off the whispers that had begun, but it was as if they were tethered to her thoughts, springing away and bouncing back again.
Katera, listen.The Voice was deep, urgent.
The time draws near. You must prepare.
"Leave me alone!"
You have been Summoned.
"No. I'm not going. I won't go."
I await you. You must obey.
Katera flung her wrap to the ground and tore down the steep hill toward the river, sliding over the barren spots where the soil was loose. Her silken waistband caught on the branch of a bush and unraveled from her waist as she continued her wild trajectory down the slope.
Every year, several of the village girls were targeted, but never, in the ten terrible years that Askindon had ruled over her people in the village, had he targeted the same family twice. Two years after her sister had disappeared into the sky, the Summons had arrived for Katera. She had dared to believe this fate would escape her. She had dared to think that she'd been pardoned from this doom in exchange for the sacrifice of her sister.
The news of Katera's Summons rolled through Parallon like an avalanche from the surrounding Shirkas. Her mother had lamented this second Summons loudly, and her father, furious and still grieving the loss of Adrella, had fought theelders as they had restrained him from rushing up Kan Mountain to confront Askinadon himself.
Katera refused to subject her parents to another presentation at the altar. Perhaps even more, she wanted to defy the god that had never appeared before her people, yet ruled them with the intensity of one who lived inside their minds and hearts, privy to every desire and weakness. She would not give herself over so easily. Better to engineer her own demise, sending the message to Askinadon that not all would obey him or his perverse Voice.
Katera. Come to the altar.
At the bottom of the hill, she slid down a short, muddy bank and plunged headlong into the raging river, hoping to drown forever the Voice that was still hissing words into her mind. Immediately, the current swept her into the frothing center and sent her bobbing downstream toward the falls. It tugged at her feet, pulling her down, and it was all she could do to keep her head above the water. Her raven dark hair, which had been bundled behind her head, tore loose from its clasp and flowed out in great lengths around her.
Come to Kopa Na An tonight as the sun touches the edge of the western Shirkas.
"I'll die first!" she shouted to the sky, and allowed the river to swell over her head.
She did not want to live another day if it meant surrendering to Askinadon. She felt herself pulled more rapidly downstream toward the falls and a sure death. Beyond the edge, the water plummeted five hundred feet onto a large pile of rocks, before cascading another hundred feet into a deep pool. Katera did not struggle. It was the only way.
As she rounded a bend in the river, her head burst out of the water, and the roar of the falls filled her ears. It would not be long now. She twisted her body around to see the edge where the path of water disappeared. Ah, there it was. She wanted to see it. She wanted to watch as she dipped over the side. She would cry out her blasphemy then, at the last moment. She'd use the old language-the forbidden one. Askinadon would be powerless to silence her.
Akka Ya Askindon. Damn you, Askinadon.
He had never before been denied a virgin. It was time. Time to crack through his fortress of uncontested power. Time to demonstrate the force of a will other than his own.
The current released her feet, so she turned on her stomach and stretched out on top of the water, bracing herself for the dive.
Something snagged her foot. A violent yank stopped her dead in the middle of the river, sending swells of froth churning around her. She gasped and shook her foot furiously, but whatever it was, it held her unyielding. Then, it slowly turned her ankle, dragging her body onto its side. In a series of short, powerful tugs, it jerked her against the current toward the riverbank.
Soon, she burst free from the ferocious tow in the middle of the river and sped toward the edge, where her legs hit the muddy bank. The thing wrapped around her foot hauled her, sliding, out of the river and up a gentle slope. She came to rest on a landing, her wet and muddy spullera forced over her head.
She pried it off her face and peered at her foot. A rope, looped tightly around her ankle, led to a large hoshdel, a four-legged beast of burden, snorting about twenty feet away. Her eyes followed the rope up the animal's shaggy, red body to a man frozen in the saddle and staring at her. Swiveling around in the mud to sit up, she pulled her spullera down over her knees, confronted his gaze…and shuddered
He was wearing an ulli, the garment of the fearful Kastaks, minions of Askinadon who roamed everywhere to perform the dark biddings of their master. The ulli, a single, tight-fitting shiny silver suit, shimmered upon him like oil on water. The sleeves were long and extended over his hands, wrapping around his fingers like gloves. His pants covered his legs and formed snugly over his feet like silver boots. Without a seam, button, tie, or fastener anywhere in sight, it laid upon him like a coat of iridescent paint. A red emblem marked the chest with a series of three interlocking circles. His hair was long, wheat-colored and tied back off his face. His features were strong, and his blue-eyed stare unrelenting. Hateful servant of the dark one. She did not intend to submit and was about to curse him when he spoke.
"Where did you think you were going?"
His face softened as he broke into a grin. The non-threatening tone of his voice startled her. She looked at him more closely. His eyes were sparkling with humor, even kindness. Her Lan Ma Ke, a gift she'd inherited from her mother, glowed like an ember in her chest. Triggered in extreme circumstance usually by a human voice, her Lan Ma Ke allowed her to feel the intentions of others, be it warm and inviting or dangerous and threatening. She knew the moment she heard his voice that he was not going to harm her. This man could not have come from the cartel of Askinadon. Yet, he wore the ulli.
"Who are you?" she asked.
His laugh startled her more than his voice. It was deep…and playful, an attitude nearly vanquished from Parallon.
"I asked you the first question," he said, as if he were teasing.
She opened her mouth and was about to demand her release when the Voice slammed back into her thoughts like a charging herd of rocsadons. She jammed both hands over her ears.
Katera. You dare defy the Great One.
"Ahh!" Katera wailed, boxing her ears.
For this, you shall suffer. Katera's head slumped between her knees. You will listen to my Voice as it rings in your head like one thousand screeching whistles. It will not end until you arrive at the Kopa Na An and summon your takatak. Go now. The Voice echoed painfully.
I will make you suffer, Katera. Every word unleashed an avalanche of daggers inside her skull. Katera stumbled to her feet, her arms wrapped around her head. She started back in the direction of the river…back to the falls, where she knew she could stop the pain, the suffering…forever.
"Stop!" she shouted, as the pitch and volume mounted. "Stop. Please stop." She had managed a couple awkward steps in the mud when the rope, still secured to her ankle, yanked her back to the ground.
Katera. Do not hesitate. The Voice had become so shrill that she felt her head would explode. You may not hesitate. Run, run to the altar like the hoshdel, or you shall perish in great misery.
Katera struggled to release the lasso around her ankle, but panic had made matchsticks of her fingers, and she fumbled like a small child.
Copyright © 2007 Ann Durand.