A little late for Valentine’s day, but I couldn’t resist another chapter of this dark little tale. Chapter one is here.
Tarrin took a great, gulping breath, as though emerging from underwater, and the god was above him, his eyes glowing, pupils gone, nothing but bright amber light, his horns towering and golden, his wings spread wide.
Thorne paced in his temple. He could feel the prayers of his priest, the blows of his hammer as he shaped the sigils on his anvil. It had been so long since Thorne had been praised in such a way, not with fear and hurried, furtive offerings, but with loud, open praise – almost worship. Thorne paced and scowled and shredded his fingernails against the stone of his altar at the fevered thought of worship.
All day he felt it, the heavy blows each a prayer to Thorne; praise and gratitude, a father’s love wrapped up in every blow, lending power to his praise. Thorne hungered for it, even from across the city. The prayers of a single, untrained mortal turned his nerves to hot ice and caused the feathers of his wings to shiver and twist. He enjoyed it at first. He relished the sensation as a thirsty man may relish a cold drink, or a tired man may relish the comfort of his bed, but as the day wore on, he grew impatient. The prayers continued; his priest was diligent in his work, Thorne would allow that, but how long could it take to make sigils? One for his hammer and one for his anvil, he had said, and a tattoo over his heart. Did that take all day? Thorne had no idea how long it took to work iron, but the hammer beat on his nerves, and the caress of the prayers grew to a long, endless tease, the shiver turned to a fever of desire, the faint call too distant. Thorne wanted his priest here now, here in his temple, but he did not come.
The sun set and the moon rose, and still Thorne waited, his patience long gone, his eyes narrowed, his fists clenched. Did this priest mock him? Did he fear him so little that he would fail in his duties on the very first day that he held them? No. Thorne would not allow it. He would have his due from this priest, or he would hold him to his oath and take the girl instead. Thorne folded his mismatched wings around himself and twisted through the growing dusk and shadows to the mortal’s forge, arriving to heat and smoke and the hiss of cold water as something was quenched.
“Priest,” Thorne demanded his attention. The mortal jumped and spun where he stood, an ugly, heavy leather apron wrapped around his body, his hair sweaty and disheveled. He held a pair of tongs in his gloved hand, and grasped in the tongs was the most perfect sigil Thorne had ever seen. It glowed, not with heat but with the prayers that had been worked into it. To Thorne’s arcane senses, it was a furnace to rival the fire that heated the forge.
“Thorne!” The smith said, startled. “How…why are you here?”
Thorne stared at the sigil. Looking at it was like looking down a deep well; it drew him in, it sucked at him as though he would fall. He curled his lip and forced his eyes away. “Where should I be, priest?” he demanded, “Alone in my temple, patiently awaiting your attentions?”
The mortal swallowed. He would have stepped back but for the heavy anvil behind him. Instead, he held up the bright sigil defensively in front of him. Instinctively, Thorne’s wings spread out behind him, the feathers longing to bask in the glorious light of the sigil. Thorne forced them back behind him, the pain and shame of the aching pinion joint shaking him out of his reverie.
“I made these for you,” the smith stammered, the hand that held the tongs shaking only slightly.
Thorne could not stand it, to see such perfection from this mortal, from his man who only swore his oath to Thorne to buy his child’s life. What could such a man do if his service was willingly given? He could light Thorne’s temple by himself if he truly was devoted. Thorne snatched the sigil, ripping it out of the grip of the tongs and holding it in his palm. He glared at the smith, hardly able to understand the mix of longing and anger that churned inside him. He could have had this. He could have had this devotion if not for…the pinion joint ached again, and Thorne snarled. He grabbed the man before him, ripping off his protective leather clothes and tearing the shirt off his back.
“Where is my name?” he growled, shoving him back against the anvil, harder than he intended, the man’s face twisting in pain. Thorne told himself to be careful; this one was but mortal. One single mortal could not possibly replace the many priests that Thorne had lost, destroyed by the gods of the corners, along with Thorne’s helpless children. One mortal was too fragile a vessel to hold that grief, and too weak to carry that hope.
But still, Thorne hungered.
“Where is my name!” he said, the shadow of his mismatched wings spread across the walls of the forge.
The blacksmith stared at him, his mouth open, fear and awe behind his eyes, but standing firm. Thorne was impressed. Most fled at the merest hint of a feather, but not this one. Not his priest.
“Your name?” the man repeated.
“My name,” Thorne growled, one hand flat on the blacksmith’s chest. “Did you not promise to write my name over your heart? Where is it!”
Realization dawned in the blacksmith’s eyes. “I will! I will! Thorne, please, why are you so angry with me? I made you these sigils, it took me all day. Tattoos cost money, and I don’t have any. I don’t even have money for food, I had to send Min to her grandmother to eat…”
Thorne tuned out his priest’s excuses and looked around the forge, seeing it properly for the first time. Racks that should have held tools were empty. The pile of coal next to the furnace was almost gone. There was no finished work to be seen. “I sold it all,” the blacksmith said quietly, hanging his head. “I sold everything. First for medicine and then for…you know. I had enough to make these for you, and then…then I have to figure something out.”
Thorne snarled, impatient with this mean place and with petty mortal concerns. His priest did not belong here. He belonged with his god. Thorne grabbed the man by the shoulders, wrapped him in his wings, and spun him through the shadows back to the temple. The tongs flew out of the mortal’s hand and skittered across the marble floor when they arrived, the priest himself following them down as he staggered dizzily and sat down with a thump. “Hey!” he complained, more irritated than afraid. Despite himself, Thorne smiled. His priest had courage; he had been right about that.
“I will do it for you,” he commanded, pointing to the altar stone. “Lay down.”
“What?” the mortal stepped back. He looked over his shoulder, but the doors to the temple were firmly shut. The only light came from the pinpricks of stars that glittered on the ceiling.
“You have been gone all day,” Thorne said, stalking towards his priest, “All day I have heard your hammer forging my name in metal. You have whetted my hunger, priest and now you will satisfy it. Lay down.”
Thorne spread his dark wings and herded the man to the low altar. When it hit him behind the knees, his legs folded and he sat down, his shirt hanging in shreds from his shoulders, his dark eyes wide. Thorne cupped his chin and looked into his eyes, his own reflection looking back at him, winged and horned and fearsome. “I will not hurt you,” he allowed, finding that he did not like his priest’s fear as much as he liked his gratitude.
“What are you going to do?” the man asked, but he did lay down on the stone, the god’s fingertips on his chest, holding him where he was wanted.
“You are mine,” Thorne sighed, the rhythm of the smith’s hammer still ringing in his blood. “I am going to put my mark on you.” The god held up the sigil he had taken from the forge, glowing in his hand, the stars above them sparking and feeding it with spiraling threads of power. It was the tattered remnants of what power Thorne used to enjoy, but it was enough for this. More than enough. The priest saw the glowing sigil in his god’s hand and blanched, expecting to be burned; the glow of metal was a warning of pain to a blacksmith.
Thorne did not give him a chance to escape. He gathered his wrists in his hand and pressed them to the cold stone, as well-caught as any shackles. It was only then that the priest panicked, true fear blooming in his eyes. He squirmed and kicked and struggled enough that Thorne sat astride him, pinning him down with his weight on the mortal’s hips, his spread wings like a canopy above them, blocking the light of the temple-stars. Thorne’s priest stilled, staring up at him wide-eyed, like a mouse hypnotized by a snake, his breath short, a sheen of sweat on his brow.
“Thorne, please,” he whispered, the glow of the sigil shining in his deep brown eyes.
Thorne ignored him; his priest had given his promise, after all. He had given his agreement, this refusal was merely his fear, spiraling out of control. Such fear would not be allayed by words, only by actions; Thorne brought the glowing sigil to his priest’s chest and pressed it into his flesh.
Tarrin expected to scream, but instead of sizzling pain he felt a wave of sensation flood his body, radiating from the sigil, not pain and not pleasure, but something else, something that set his nerves on fire and blurred his vision, that dropped the altar out from under him and let him float, tasting moonlight, fireflies, the brush of soft wings over his face, and then Thorne whispered, “Breathe,” and Tarrin took a great, gulping breath, as though emerging from underwater. The god was above him, his eyes glowing, pupils gone, nothing but bright amber light, his horns towering and golden, his wings spread wide.
“Ahh,” was all Tarrin could say, gasping, shaking like a leaf in his god’s grip. Whatever power had rushed through him still bubbling in his veins. “Ahh.”
The god released his wrists and Tarrin sat up, exploring his chest with his hands, finding not a painful, burning brand, as he had expected, but instead a smooth, shining, golden symbol. It was as though it were painted on, but no paint glowed like that, no paint blended so seamlessly with the skin underneath. The sigil of the horned raven, wings spread; Thorne’s sigil, perfectly placed in the center of his chest.
Tarrin looked up, amazed, expecting to find the god satisfied with his work, but Thorne was glaring, still sitting astride him. The stars above, that Tarrin now understood were connected to the god’s power somehow, shifted and danced.
“Thorne?” Tarrin ventured, aware he was still pinned on the god’s altar, not yet daring to attempt to rise.
“Lie down,” the god breathed, his words heavy, the feathers of his wings shivering, as though each one was alive. “Lie down, priest. I am not yet satisfied.”
With a hard swallow, Tarrin lay back down. His god hungered, he had said, and clearly, he hungered for something more than Tarrin’s prayers.
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