Aphelion Issue 222, Volume 21
October 2017
 
Editorial    
Long Fiction and Serials
Short Stories
Flash Fiction
Poetry
Features
Series
Archives
Submission Guidelines
Contact Us
Flash Writing Challenge
Forum
   

Dark Sister

by Susan Anwin




Monday

I was sitting with Esty in the library, acting as her conversant for the evening. I dropped my name (okay, my substitute for one) in the hat just as I did every spring for the Oiskog, the week-long mating ritual, not really expecting to get a match I’d like, so I sat with the princess talking softly, sharing the latest gossip.

"Lily's baby is growing so fast, Dodi tells me so," she was saying, her cloud of soft, brown curls brushing my cheek. God, please not the baby talk again, I sighed inwardly. I swear she does this to annoy me. It pained Esty that her snotty elder sister forbade her from seeing her nephew. I braced myself and prepared to act like I cared. Not like I could fool Esty.

"Firstborn," Martin, this year's announcer called out, disrupting my rapt audience act. I raised a hand to show I heard.

"Dodi says Lily might visit soon," Esty mused. Not bloody likely, we both knew.

"Rev Tim." Martin's eyebrows shot up. "Interesting match," he chuckled in the sudden silence. "A handmaiden of the Lady of Dreams and Death and a servant of the god of Magic and Sciences. Rivals and adversaries from the dawn of time." Interesting, indeed. Dark sister and Aziz priest, firstborn and vohiek; something possible only in the Debil-klub.

I sat up straight. "He rigged it."

"You can say no, you know," Esty whispered.

"No. If he rigs the draw to end up with me, I wanna know why."

Tim, Esty's little bro owns this place. He is also my boss, by the way. I glanced at him but he looked unruffled, burying his nose in one of his books. I turned back toward the table. They were all looking at me, waiting. I nodded consent. It was only half of the deal though; the Rev had to agree to it too. He waved consent with his quill, not looking up. Esty blew out the air she didn't notice she was holding in. "Well, I guess you'll have to sit by him."

I went up to the gallery running around the library a few feet higher than the ground, in a crossfire of vohiek stares. I cleared my throat. Do I greet him? Them? What's the protocol here?

The rest of the draw went on relatively uneventfully, resulting in only a handful of other couples. Most of them will be dissolved before the week was up. I stole a glance at the prince. If they last through the week--well that's an entirely different, sometimes delicate situation.

We gathered for the Oiskog dinner and it took a gentle reminder from Gaita, a fellow servant to take my place by him.

Afterwards the whole Saqueroy clan retreated into his room. The girls, Esty, Dodi and Nellie perched on the bed, trying to stare at me without staring at me. Zak, his younger brother had no such misgivings. "Will you marry him if you last through the week?" he asked. He was a little weird--autistic was my guess. In any case he had a penchant for asking the most embarrassing questions. He turned to the Rev. "Maybe Father will make you heir after all, if you manage to…"

"Zak!" Tim snapped. He looked at me for the first time in the evening. "If you are to be my Oiskog-bride, you'll have to look and live like one of us." He raised his hands.

"Wait, do I at least get a say in how I'll look?" I protested.

"No."

He made a series of complicated hand gestures. "You'll also want to choose a vohiek name," he said when he was finished.

"Can I see first how I look?"

He shrugged. "Mirror's in the bathroom." And nowhere else in his room I noted as I rose, prepared for the worst based on the girls' reactions. I made a small noise when I saw the creature looking back from the mirror. Bluish-green, hairless, with gills on her neck, round, silvery eyes. A pretty enough face in its alien way. It's an illusion, I reminded myself, lasting only a week, or not even that long. I pulled a finger on the scaly, slightly slimy skin. Felt real enough. He most probably wanted to test me, see if I last through the week. Well, he had his task set out for him if he wanted to upset my cool; I've been Death Bride, chosen and trained to accompany a king to the grave.

The creature's eyes in the mirror narrowed. "You went a lil' overboard, don't you think?"

"A name. You'll need one."

Being a dark sister, I didn't have one, and what I was called where I came from I no longer remembered. It will be a nice change to being called just Alula--girl, in vohiek.

"Alehna Molia", I uttered the first name that came to mind. She was one of their writers--a poetess if I recalled right. "Just call me Nenya."

I couldn't help flinching as I came out of the bathroom; if I had to wear a disguise for a week, he chose to go without one. He was namw÷os--a burned or injured one in their tongue; there was an abundance of them in the ranks of their order. Brilliant. Definitely testing me.

"You'll need a name too," I managed.

"I have one."

"A vohiek one, that is."

He seemed amused--it was hard to tell. "Yarikh."


Tuesday

I broke my fast with the rest of the Debil klub--an odd change of being served instead of serving and I wasn't sure if I liked my pals Gaita and Sindre bustling around me. The klub members stared at me wide eyed--they were seeing my magical transformation for the first time.

Gaita knocked on the door shortly after I retreated to my room. She made herself comfortable on my bed. "So what is it like, being one of us?"

I could understand their excitement. Not only was I a ma'ash--a stranger, a non-vohiek, I was also a firstborn--one that has come from another place; one who could be absolutely certain to have no trace of defect DNA in her. A chalice of untainted blood. That one such should live like a vohiek even for such a short while--the irony of the situation wasn't lost on any of us. "Like me, except vohiek."

She rolled her eyes.

"Where's bossman?"

"Yarikh, remember?"

"Whatever. Do you have a clue what he's up to, by any chance?" I asked instead.

I had to give it a try. They might be lord and servant, but they were both part of the jamelo, the vohiek community; pretty much a hive mind, to my experience. It was hopeless, of course. She gave me an innocent look. "Why would you ask me? I'm just a servant, right?"

Right.

I went and knocked on his door and he invited me in, elegant and suave as ever. He opened a portal, a hole on reality to a distant shore. We passed through (I could never quite get used to the slight electrical buzz on my skin) and had the famed city of Wibuwwa, forbidden anyone but vohieks, rising in front of us. I've heard of it during my studies, but it was a whole different thing to see it in person, towering above us like a giant bird's nest about a mile from the shore, and for once I was truly at a loss for smart-ass comments.

A fleet of boats awaited by the shore to carry travelers across the water. I counted approximately two hundred scattered huts as the city unfolded in front of my eyes, caught in the flimsy looking cobweb of tarrite threads. The structure seemingly lacked any conscious planning, but as the boat got closer I could see there were further inner webs within the outer mesh, with bigger and more elaborate huts. Apparently the closer one lived to the center the higher social status they had.

Airy meshwork connected the huts in every direction, but these bridges were sturdier than they looked; horses and ox drawn carts passed on them. There were no joints or any other sign of construction where the threads met.

We climbed to the upper levels dodging clusters of locals of every possible and impossible size and shape. I couldn't help noticing the looks some of them gave bossman varying between distaste and pity. I even heard a few mumbled Mydzi M÷jz!'s, the vohiek expression of shock or outrage. He showed no sign of noticing any of it, heading, as it turned out, to a jewelry shop in the high-end inner mesh.

"The lady here is my Oiskog-bride. We need commemorating rings."

I was just as confused as the shop owner. The Rev took this from firstborns. Vohieks didn't have the habit of giving each other rings, even for real marriages, let alone for Oiskog. The man shot a questioning look at me. "She doesn't speak our tongue," Tim shrugged. "Is from one of those families."

Families, where a vohiek is born to by'arna--human parents. It happens--the proof of that was standing beside me. That was a good enough explanation for the man; one glance at Tim told him we are prospective well-paying customers. He is, at least.

We picked out two silver rings made out of intertwined leaves, with tiny blue stones in the holes between the leaves. They were lovely, really.

"Engrave Yarikh & Nenya on the inside," Tim instructed him. My eyebrows shot up. Very untraditional. I knew he had firstborn ancestry, but this was just over the top. The man retreated into the tiny workshop behind the store, but not before sending out his assistant to watch us under the pretext of offering refreshment to the dear customers.

"There is really no need for this," I hissed. Tim didn't answer, busy looking at some necklaces in one of the display windows.

The man was back soon. "Here you are, Ai--I wish you all the best with the lovely lady. It is to be applauded, Eas," he turned to me, using the word of respect for ‘Lady', "agreeing to be the wife of a namw÷ os. You are a gem among women."

I opened my mouth to protest--I wasn't about to become his wife, but decided that maybe this wasn't the best moment to point that out. I let Tim pull the ring on my finger--left index, where I used to wear my Death Bride ring up until yesterday.

We climbed to the lookout at the top of the city, with the whole of Wibuwwa beneath our feet, visible through the mesh. I covered up against the chill wind, but bossman didn't seem to mind. His smooth, dark tresses whipped around his face, beneficially hiding it.

"Where I come from you put a ring on a girl's finger, you kiss her."

His eyes--well, his good eye narrowed. That's right mister, two can play this game.

"You're not there," was all he said.


* * *

"Why are you doing this shit job? You should be married to a king or a prince, with that blood of yours," Gaita once asked me. I couldn't mistake the longing in her voice.

"I'm not gonna be the breeding mare of no fucking prince," I told her then. I was no breeding mare, alright--but I'd been Death Bride to a king. By all means I should be dead, I mused, as I turned bossman's ring on my finger, so the tiny sapphire drops caught the light. It cost more than a month of my salary. Not like money mattered any to this aristocratic prick.

"Sooo?" Gai barged into my room as soon as we got back.

"He goes pretty vanilla on me so far. I guess he reserves the hardcore stuff for later..."

She chose not to get the clue. "What do you mean?"

I sighed. "Nevermind." Damned vohieks!

In the afternoon we headed out again, this time to Kensington, one of the poshest cities of the empire, capital city of Kensington princedom. Knowing his past involvement with the Kensington princess it was a rather piquant choice. Even more so, knowing my opinion of the princess, which I never really kept quiet. As it turned out, neither of that figured in his decision to bring us there. We walked along high street, the only vohieks--well, a true vohiek and a pretend one--as far as I could see, in a barrage of scornful glances and nasty remarks, until we reached a glitzy hotel. "Do you think this is a good idea…?" I began, but he was already in the revolving door.

Tim went straight up to the concierge. "Sir, I'm looking for a guest." His humble tone I hated more than all the insults we had to endure so far. "By the name of Liliana Saqueroy. To my knowledge she is..."

"No such lady staying here, and even if she did, I'd not harass her for the likes of you, boy. Now get out of here, while I'm telling you nicely."


* * *

We were watching the sea from the promenade in relative peace. There weren't many passersby, but I pulled up my hood regardless and hated myself for it.

"So, how are you feeling?"

I winced at his voice. That was the longest string of words I've heard from him today. "Was that supposed to freak me out? A show of the sad vohiek life?" I snorted. "Bitch, I'm a dark sister. I've been the Death Bride of the leper king. I died to get into this world. Hardly anything surprises me anymore."

He cast me a long, inscrutable look. "Why are you not dead, then?"

"I am, I guess, in a way."

"That's not what I meant."

I knew full well what he meant. My mask of bravado slipped. "My services were, um. Not required."

"Why not?"

"That's really not your business."

"Why did you elect to be a Death Bride? You're a daughter of the Lady of the Stars; there are so many things you could've learned in the Sisterhood. This way the only thing you did learn was how to die."

I did not like this. How did he know so much about our order? Well of course, spying on each other was an ancient sport between dark sisters and Aziz priests. "Neither is that."

He shrugged. "You could still be a princess though--you're not too old yet. Any prince or noble would be glad to have that pure blood in their dynasty. Instead of cleaning shit for aristocrats – something you deem so beneath yourself."

I cast him a glance. "I'd much rather clean shit for some rich fuck than to be a breeding mare to one."

Wednesday

Next day he came to me with his face veiled in illusion, with Esty in tow.

"Today you're firstborn", he said before I could lift my hand to check.

"Oh. And why is that?"

"We are seeing Lily and the babe!" Esty enthused. "She wants the firstborn blessing on the little lamb."

"What? No! Didn't you say she was staying in that hotel?"

"Left early evening yesterday. You better start preparing."

"No! I will not handle no fuckin baby! You can't make me!" "So you give up then?"

I felt like slapping that smirk off his face. "I'm not, but I'm not going near a baby. End of story."

He pulled off his gloves. "Well, then I guess I have to pronounce our Oiskog-marriage over."


* * *

Two hours and a fancy dress, makeup, hair and jewels I couldn't afford from a year's worth of salary later we were jolting in a carriage. Esty was over the moon, feeling the need to express her gratitude every five minutes. "It's the only way we could see our little nephew," she squeezed my hand.

"Uh, great I guess. I hope it's not gonna puke on me or something," I mumbled. "And I'll have a word or two with your snobbish bitch of a sister."

Esty looked horrified. "Oh no, please don't. It's not her fault. I promise." She shot a quick look at her brother. "In her place, I'd probably do the same."

"What, shit on your family?"

She let go of my hand and looked down at her own four fingered ones in her lap. "This family has ruined us all..."

"No. I did."

"Oh, don't start it again, Timbo. It's not all about you, you know."

"It is, though, mostly. I'm the first son, after all."

"Let's just not dwell on these things now, shall we?" she snapped.

I looked from one to the other. Quite a can of worms I opened here. Liliana, Estelle and Dorothy were older than him, but Tim should have been heir to the whole vast Saqueroy estate. Instead he was the living proof of their curse.

We continued in a tension-riddled silence until the Baru Nion estate appeared on the horizon, where Lily was living with her husband, Dain Baru Nion. She was the only one who managed to marry as was befitting (if slightly lower than) her rank and as soon as she did, she severed all ties with her family.

It was a tidy little manor we arrived to, nothing fancy--good enough for the vohiek siblings.

A handful of servants waited as we got out of the carriage. The point of the firstborn blessing was to make sure the infant passed on no tainted blood. It should be done, as per definition, by a firstborn, but since we are a rare commodity in this world, Lily made the concession of allowing her defective siblings near her bundle of joy. Esty and Tim both tried to trick, wheedle, bribe me to do it before, but now the bastard found a hold on me.

We were waiting in a spacious tearoom with tall glass windows opening on a neat garden, with tea and cookies in front of us on an ivory inlaid table.

"The fuck takes them so long?"

Esty shot me a disapproving look. "They have to get the babe ready. It may take time, you know."

I mumbled something and stuffed some cookies in my mouth.

They came at last; Lily at the front, loveliest of all the Saqueroy girls, tawny skin glowing in the dusty afternoon light, silky brown curls piled on top of her head, big, dark eyes on us, with the squirming parasite, I mean baby in her arms, followed by a guy that looked to be a catholic priest, Lord Baru Nion himself, and a flock of assorted servants, hand-picked to watch every breath of the heir. The procession halted a few steps from us. I looked at my companions. They looked equally abashed seeing their sister for the first time in years. They stood, not quite knowing how to proceed.

I cleared my throat.

Lily's face lit up. "Firstborn! It is such an honor to have you here! I have firstborn ancestry too, you know..."

"Just call me Nenya. For a week now, I have a name." I gestured towards bossman. "We are in Oiskog, or how you call it." I noticed Esty shaking her head, gesticulating frantically, too late.

Lily's smile withered. "Oh? You are not tainted yourself, are you?" She turned to the priest. "There's really no point if she's tainted, is there?"

"Excuse me?"

"She's not tainted," Tim said through clenched teeth. There was something in his look that made Lily not press the topic further. "Alright then, here's William," she offered the sprog to me.

"It's not gonna start screeching or something like that, right?"

She cast me an offended look. "He's a very well-behaved babe. His diapers have just been changed too."

I could do without the gross details, but I took the kid nonetheless and held it up at an arm's stretch away.

The priest stepped forward. "Repeat after me. May the Lord bless this child..."

"May the Lord bless this child..."

"So his days be long upon the earth, blessed with health, happiness and abundance..."

"So his days be long upon the earth, blessed with health, happiness and abundance...

"and that his progeny not be tainted."

"and that his, do I really gotta say this?"

He looked taken aback. "Why, yes, please. It's the most important part of the ceremony."

"and that his..." I swallowed. I looked at them in turn, the priest, Lily and Dain watching anxiously, the whispering servants, Esty and Tim staring at the kid transfixed. The sprog started to get fussy and my arms began to hurt, so I quickly finished. "That his progeny not be tainted."

I felt like washing my mouth, so I showed the whining baby in Esty's arms. Lily's eyes shot wide. I poured myself some tea and turned to the priest. "What kind of ceremony is this? It's not like any of the Christian rituals I know."

"It's, well, it's like baptizing, adapted to the local conditions."

"It's not really Christian-like, shoving that poor lamb like you did," Lily snapped.

"Nor is it to ban your sibs from seeing it," I retorted. "I mean if that's their thing, looking at sprogs."

The sprog in question was in Tim's arms now, and he looked down at it in wonder. I felt uncomfortable spying on them, so I turned back to Lily. She was watching them with thinly veiled distaste.


* * *

"Thank you," Esty said on the way back. "Not welcome. And this was the last time you pulled that kinda shit on me," I turned to Tim.

He chuckled. "Seeing Lily's expression was half the fun."

"Yeah, pissed myself laughing," I grumbled. "William, what a pretentious, bullshit name!"

We went to the vohiek quarter of the city and sat in a relatively elegant patisserie. I couldn't help admiring the Rev as he walked in ahead of us, dashing, elegant, seemingly self-confident. I caught myself looking at him with something akin to pride. We sat at a corner table for a light lunch.

"We do owe you thanks," he spoke up suddenly.

"That you do," I replied between two bites, "and let me tell you partner, that's gon cost you a lot."

"How much?"

"I don't know. Let me give it some thought." I knew I couldn't say an amount he couldn't pay. I wanted him to pay with something that actually cost him effort to give, something that couldn't be bought with money.

"He didn't move you at all?" Esty asked. She was still stuck with the baby. She gave me a wide-eyed, innocent look. "Not that cherubic little face, those perfect little starfish hands…"

I pulled a face. She knew exactly how to push my buttons. "I'm afraid I have to disappoint, Princess," I shook my head. "Jesus!"

Tim watched us with the ghost of a smile on his lips.

"Having fun, are we?"

The ghost widened into a grin. "Aren't you?"

I pursed my lips. "If you want to ruffle my feathers, you gotta try harder."

Again, that smirk of his. Challenge accepted, that smirk said.

Thursday

The girls barged into my room late in the morning. Gaita, Sindre, and the girls usually working on the Saqueroy princesses. They whispered excitedly among themselves in their tongue, giggling occasionally, but of course none of them would tell me what was going on. Damned vohieks! They brought a dress compared to which my dress visiting Lily was plain and unassuming; a whirlwind of rustling velvet and silk the color of a raincloud, light like a cobweb against my skin, breath-fine lace, and then there were the jewels; a spray of sparkle, caught in a spider web of filigree silver.

"White-gold," Gaita corrected me.

"Okay, I don't know what you want with all that stuff; I'm not putting them on."

The makeup brush stopped in Sindre's hand. "Why not?"

"Because. I'm not putting them on, unless I get to know what for."

The girls exchanged a look. "Bossman's orders."

"Now we're talking. Please elaborate."

Gaita crumpled a muslin underskirt in her hands. "Please, Alula. We were instructed not to tell you."

The excitement was gone; they looked genuinely worried. I knew I'd just get them in trouble if I didn't cooperate. I gestured towards the constellation of sparkles. "Those are not diamonds, yes?"

"What's wrong with diamonds? You don't like them?"

"Gai. You're not being funny."

"Mydzi M÷jz, you act like you are not used to grandeur, having lived in a royal court and all that."

I sighed. This misconception again. "I did notlive in the king's court. I didn't have a rank. I was there for one reason."

She shrugged. "Whatever. Will you put them on, then?"


* * *

I pulled aside the curtain of the carriage. We were riding on a wide cobblestoned road that cut through a forest.

"Let me guess; we are going to Saint-Pierre-le Moűtier."

"What makes you think so?"

"Otherwise why the dolling up?"

Bossman was wearing his Sunday best too, looking every bit the prince he was. Not gonna appear in front of Daddy looking anything less than regal.

"So when are we gonna get to the estate?"

"We are already there."

I took a closer look at the trees. "For how long?"

"Quite a while." Was I just imagining, or was he really giving me a smug look? Not earning any brownie points with that shit. I turned back to watching the forest.

There was light ahead; as we got closer it turned into the biggest, fanciest castle I have ever seen--ChÔteauneuf-du-Faou--all lit up, glitzy, flashy, over the top. "An ancient dynasty; really no need for all that in-your-face show off. I wonder what Daddy is compensating for." I shot him a glance. "Wait; I think I know."

The smug look was gone; he was glaring at me with something akin to hatred. It was already worth it.

The forest gave place to a meticulous French garden, sparkling with the light of a million lampions, mirroring the myriad stars above. "Ain't that pretty," I sighed. The breeze brought laughter from the hedge maze.

We got out at the feet of marble steps half the length of a racecourse and walked past a wall of unmoving servants and entered an anteroom with its ceiling lost in the murk above the light of crystal candelabra. Imagine cleaning all that shit.

I linked my arm in his, and we walked along a wide corridor. For the first time in the evening my stomach clenched under the corset, as we entered the great hall. The best of the best, everybody who was anybody was present at the Spring Eve banquet held at the ancestral seat of house Saqueroy. There was the princess from the side branch of the imperial family Charles Saqueroy managed to bag for Aziz – the only son he had that wasn't fucked up. And here we were, entering as the music and chatter slowly died and all eyes turned towards us.

Charles Saqueroy, himself almost a god, barely below the Emperor, stared at us in disbelief. I was not used to such welcomes, but then again, I was in my vohiek disguise, and Tim, well, he didn't bother to put on any.

We sat next to Dodi. She paled some shades.

"You have the nerve," the Prince hissed in the utter silence, "to show up here like this, with your vohiek slut."

Tim turned to look at him. My first instinct was to protest that I wasn't a vohiek, but the Prince went on. "I should have killed you when I had the chance. I might, still."

My heart skipped a beat. He might, at that; no one would lift a finger. Not that that would wash the shame off his name, but no doubt it would give him some degree of satisfaction.

Tim stood and walked briskly towards the head of the table--towards the Prince.

I scuttled after him, hissing; "I really don't think this is a..."

He didn't even hear me. Charles Saqueroy was stunned into silence at this audacity. Armed guards barred our way when we were only a few steps away from him; they flew back in every odd direction at one hand gesture from Tim.

He kept glaring at his father. The Prince swallowed. It might have only just begun to dawn on him that his defective progeny may actually cause him harm.

Tim lifted his hand and the Saqueroy flag above the Prince's throne burst into flames. We were followed by cries of outrage and the shouts of servants trying to put out the fire.


* * *

"Hey, I figured out how you could repay me for the sprog-handling ordeal. I had to find something you can't buy, but the options are rather limited in that regard, so here's the deal. You put a ring on my finger, you give me a kiss. That's how it goes where I come from. And don't give me that ‘you're not there' crap. You took the whole ring idea from my world." We were standing on the patio outside the villa. It was late, so most of the residents were already asleep.

He glowered at me with his famous narrow-eyed stare, then he made up his mind. He stepped to me and pressed what was left of his lips on mine. It was a little awkward with all the missing bits, but it was all in all an okay way to pass the time until the pain came. It came sharp, cutting into my lips, flooding my mouth with blood.

I whimpered and banged my fists on his chest. He let go.

"Motherfucker!" I screeched and shoved him in the chest. I heard noise from the staff quarters, but I didn't care. "How dare you?"

He had the nerve to shoot me an amused look. "I think we better go in..."

I backed away from him. "Don't you dare touching me. I'm not going anywhere with you, you sick fuck."

"So...you're giving up?"

I stared at him, stunned wordless, so I just shook my head and stormed in, slamming the door in his face.

Friday

Friday found me in a cell on a hard bunk bed, under a coarse military blanket. There was a filthy loo in the corner, a tiny washbasin with a cracked soap on the rim that looked like it's been slumping there in its own puddle for the last decade. The whole setup uncomfortably reminded me of a prison or one of those gore B horror movies, where a couple of teens get kidnapped and chopped up by some maniac, complete with the metal door with a peep slot and the bare, dusty lightbulb hanging from the ceiling, mournfully flickering sometimes. At least I wasn't tied down. I was also back in my human form, dressed in clothes familiar from my old life; jeans, t-shirt, sneakers. Was I back? Could I be back after I died there? If so, this was not where I wanted to return.

I looked around, but there wasn't a ventilation shaft or window to see where I was. I lied down by the door, but could see nothing through the gap underneath. The corridor was lit outside--if it was a corridor at all--that was all I could tell for sure. There was absolutely nothing I could make a weapon out of, unless I was willing to break the bulb, plunging myself into pitch black, which I was not ready for. The only thing I could use was the blanket to throw on my captor--if there was a captor at all and I wasn't just left in this hole to rot. I didn't want to dwell on that. Someone must have noticed my disappearance. Dodi or Tim, someone will look for me, and the Rev has ways to find me. Unless it was him who put me in this place, growing tired of my antics, getting rid of me for good. I felt panic rising in my throat. He can't do that to a Sister. Even he can't be that insane. He can't.

I had no way to tell the time, but after a while I heard steps on the corridor. "Hey! Let me out! Hey!" I banged on the door. The steps stopped outside and the light dimmed in the gap underneath. Whoever it was, they didn't move or say anything. I backed away and curled up on the bunk bed.

The peep slot opened and a tray of food was pushed inside. I ran up to the door. "Where am I? Why are you keeping me here?" I tried to see the person on the other side. The slot snapped shut. I looked at the tray; scrambled eggs, cereal, orange juice, toast, jam. A pretty decent breakfast, straight outta my world.

"Hey! Come back please!" The plates and the cutlery clinked softly as I banged on the door until my fist hurt, but there was no reply.


* * *
"It's not laced with anything," came a voice from the other side of the door. It was a male, that much I could tell. The breakfast tray stood on the shelf untouched.

"Please! Why am I here?"

There was only silence, then I heard keys jingling. I took a step back. My hands curled into fists, aching for a weapon.

The door opened and I could see my captor for the first time. No, I was definitely not back. He was either the most extreme vohiek I've seen so far, or a genuine freak. He was much taller than a man, tall even with the standards of this world and wide; he pretty much filled the doorframe, so there was no way I could dash past him into freedom. He was bald, his skin bluish-yellow, slimy looking, with a wrinkled snout and fangs hanging out of his mouth. Whiteless black eyes stared back at me.

"Wh...who are you?"

"I'm To-ong, last and most dangerous bastard of the wizard ─tile."

"Where am I? Why am I here?"

"You are important to the vohiek..."

There was only one vohiek he could be talking about. "I'm sorry, but you got that wrong."

"...because of your music," he continued as if I hadn't said a word. "Once he comes for you, you can ask him about it. You'll have ample time before the sacrifice."

"My music? Hold on, sacrifice, what sacrifice?"

He gestured towards the tray. "Eat." The door shut with a bang behind him.


* * *

There was only one thing he could have meant by music--Tim heard people's music, their basic, underlying tune, what made them, them. It was one of his vohiek Talents. Why mine would matter to him I could not fathom.

Judging time from meals, at least a week had already passed. "I guess the Oiskog's already over," I said when To-ong next came.

"And you are still married to your husband..."

"He is not my husband!" I snapped. I remembered our last, unfortunate encounter. My lip was still somewhat swollen and tender. "I don't even like him. He's an asshole." To-ong shrugged. "I though the sacrifice would interest you more than such minor details."

I snapped my head up. "Yes, yes it does, please! What kind of sacrifice is it? Does it require, um. Me dying?"

"Your blood, and his magic, but ─tile could tell you more about it."

"Can I talk to him then?"

"No."

"Could I just give you, you know, just a small vial of blood and be done with it, or does he, um, require all five liters?"

He chuckled on the other side of the peep slot. "Nice try. No, your husband has to be here too."

"Not my husband, damn you!"

"Why does it irk you so much? He is your spring husband, isn't he?"

"So what? It means nothing."

"There you are wrong. The Oiskog is an ancient mating ritual. You lasted longer than any of his previous brides."

"Oh, yay me. How do you know so much about him?"

"Your question reveals a na´vetÚ that is surprising in a Sister."

"I was trained to be a Death Bride, okay? The main thing, the only thing I was taught is how to die properly."

"And you botched even that."

"Fuck you."

I was left with the echo of his annoying snicker.


I don't even know what day anymore

"Hey! Could I get some books at least? It's pretty boring in here. Please?"

"Prison is not here for your entertainment," To-ong declared, as he pushed in the food tray. Well, at least he had a sense of humor, of sorts.

"Could you at least tell me what day it is?"

"Does it matter? Does it change anything about your predicament?"

Well, if nothing else, To-ong, last and most dangerous bastard of ─tile was rather articulate I had to give him that--I guess that came with serving a wizard.

"The point is, you are still married to your husband."

"I'm not...he's not...why is this so goddamn important to you?"

"The union of a firstborn and a vohiek -- it is unheard of. It happened only once in recorded history."

I knew the story of Elizabeth, or Bessa, as she is called by vohieks, and Bokte, doomed lovers, executed in all sort of gruesome, horrendous, not nice ways. I was a Death Bride by profession, but I didn't feel like dying at all. Not for such a stupid reason. "You are not thinking of some kind of reenactment of the Bessa and Bokte story, are you? I mean I'm not involved with him that way, you know. As I've pointed it out countless times already."

"Don't get all worked up..."

"Don't tell me not to get worked up. You're not the one locked up in here, with no idea what's gonna happen to you."

He didn't reply.

"Can you at least tell me how you'll sacrifice me?"

"Not me; my maker, ─tile will."

"Maker? Are you a robot, or something?"

He made an irritated sound. Obviously, he said more than he'd intended.

Day n+1

I entertained myself by walking up and down, doing strengthening and stretching exercises between meals. I was almost hoping against hope that Tim would come and we would get done and over with the sacrifice, but obviously he had no plans of joining me. I was annoyed with him and with myself for expecting him to rescue me like I was some kind of stupid damsel in distress. The princess in the Tower. Which, come to think of, I was, sort of. Sort of princess in a sort of tower. "I'd really rather get on with that goddamn sacrifice than rot in this cell another day. Please, is there no other way to bring him here? He obviously has better things to do than trying to save me."

"Your husband..."

"Don't call him that, damnit! If he was my husband, he'd at least make an attempt at freeing me."

"Maybe you just have to call him. Have you never thought of that?"

"What do you mean?"

"He can't hear you if you don't talk to him."

I tried to get a better look at him through the slot. "Are you bullshitting me?"

He just stood there waiting.

"Hey! Tim! You hear me? Come ‘n get me out of here, bitch!" I peeped at To-ong through the slot. "Look, I really don't think this is gonna work. We did not part on the best of terms."

"There are ups and downs in the best of marriages."

I took the orange juice off the tray and threw it at the slot, trying to splatter him with it with mixed results. "Oh, piss off. What are you, some kind of marriage counselor?"

"Maybe you should try it with some feel. I know you are used to getting your way but maybe, just this one time you could try asking nicely?"

I tried to catch his eyes, which was kinda hard as the slot was around the height of his waist. "With feel."

"Go ahead, give it a shot; do you have anything better to do? The sooner he gets here, the sooner we can get started."

I sighed. "Nicely," I echoed with all the scorn I could muster. "Tim," I whispered breathlessly, "my beloved husband! Come and get me out of here, I beg of thee!"

I dearly hoped To-ong appreciated the show I put on, but when I checked, he was gone.


Day n+2

Day n+2 found me in my room, in the Debil klub. I sat up with a start and looked around wildly. Was I dreaming? I ran out to the corridor. "Sindre? Gai?"

Tim's door opened. "Oh. Good morning."

"Wh...what's going on?"

"Come in."

I sat on the chair he offered as if I was moving in a dream.

"So you did call for my help in the end." He shook his head, as he poured some water. "All that sarcasm, though..."

I felt suddenly faint. The length he'd go just to win, just to have the last word. "To-ong, ─tile, the sacrifice, all of that was a load of crap..."

A light smile crossed his face. "How did you like the food? A taste of home – a nice touch if you ask me." He offered me the glass, but I didn't take it.

"What day is it?"

"Sunday. You made it. You are still my Oiskog-bride."

I looked up at him, into those very blue, whiteless, three pupiled eyes, the clear one and the cloudy, ruined one. "You are sick. A psychopath." I said with numb lips. "Just…go away."

He laughed. "Where to? This is my place, remember? Don't worry, a lot of people who don't understand magic and catch a glimpse into its depths react the same way." He stopped and looked down at me as if struck by an afterthought. "So, you give up then? Just before the end?"

I felt a surge of hate towards him. He knew exactly how to play me. "Is this all this is for you? A fucking pissing contest?"


* * *

So, only two days have passed. Two days, during which he kept me in this… limbo. Illusion? Dream? Or did he actually open another, timeless dimension? He was right; I had no idea of the power Aziz-priests wielded, or of his rank within the order. Just thinking about the possibilities filled me with fearful respect. I was never a match for him. In the end, he did manage to freak me out, the bastard.

In the evening, we gathered in the Golden Knight, the biggest and most popular vohiek tavern in the capital city, where the Oiskog usually ended.

I went with the other vohieks--with the vohieks, I mean. I was back in my disguise. The mood was cheerful, ribald as is fitting a spring ceremony, with food and draught abundant on the long table. Only I sat in a glum silence.

"What was that about my music?"

He flinched. "What?"

"Your creature, or robot or whatever it was said you needed my music for some reason. What was that about?"

For a long time, I thought he wouldn't answer and when he did, he spoke so softly I thought I misheard him. "He is not a robot."

Before I could ask him further, Esty squeezed my arm. "You did make it!"

I turned to look at her. She saw the wound in the corner of my lip and her smile withered.

"So, Nenya," that was Johnny, one of their numerous second cousins. He sat across the table from us, a blond guy with a scattering of small, round insect eyes on the top half of his face, all of which were focused on me now. I could never get used to the sight of them blinking all at the same time. "Any final thoughts?"

My hand crept to my mouth. "You want my final thoughts? He is a total whacko, a full-on psychopath." I thought for a while. "At least he's not boring, I have to give him that, I guess."

"Mydzi M÷jz!" Johnny muttered. He turned to Tim instead. "Rev?"

He deliberated for a long moment. "She is hard to get rid of."

Some of the beetle eyes flicked back to me. "Do you think you could stick by him long term?"

I looked at Johnny incredulous, then at the Rev. I took the ring he gave me at the beginning of this long-long week and put it on the table. "I really don't think so."


THE END


ę 2017 Susan Anwin

Bio: Ms. Susan Anwin was born and raised in Budapest, Hungary, went to ELTE University in Budapest and majored in English. Her flash-fiction Talk of Armadale Trees was featured in the anthology My Favourite Place, published by the Scottish Book Trust in 2012. Her short stories Fog-People, Eddie's Lousy Saturday, You'll Die as Fish, People of the Green Cloud and Dragonfly-man were published by Aphelion in 2016 and 2017....

E-mail: Susan Anwin

Comment on this story in the Aphelion Forum

Return to Aphelion's Index page.