excerpted from BOOK TWO
anahk Tor The Destroyer, Murderer, Mother and Child Killer, Nation Killer ... anahk Tor The Betrayer of All Whom He Loves tiredly swallowed down the bitter last of whatever he was drinking. He had temporarily forgotten the name of the strong liquid, which meant it was doing what he wished of it -- making him forget; anesthetizing his hurt, raw mind; assuaging his aching, exhausted soul.
Keeping The Past at bay.
But, there was only so much the ... elixir he was downing could do for the present, as some loud, portentous idiot, who plainly and singly believed himself more important than anyone else present ... and, perhaps, more highly important than anyone in all the dusty city of Tashk't, including the high royals themselves, was berating and beating a half crippled youth, who vainly tried to protect himself.
The lame boy with a malformed arm was swaddled from head to toe, his face heavily veiled in the similar Tuareg male, desert manner. The Fool beat him all because the boy would not fetch for him; putting Tor's sentiments and thoughts, what few he could muster, on the child's side, because the youth was not one of the family, who ran this ... establishment ... this foul pisshole, nor did the boy work here.
If the Fool had truly been of any colossally vast import, he would not have been in this place.
The small fellow bravely took the unjustified mistreatment, though, then retrieved what the man wanted from the barmaster; returning quickly, despite his severely hampered limbs ... and promptly spilled most of it all over the Fool. The youth's thoroughly drenched victim did not find his situation as uproariously amusing as Tor and nearly everyone else in the place.
Also, the useless buffoon did not notice, as he further beat and berated the lad even more ruthlessly, that he would not be able to pay his way. The youth had one good and deftly subtle hand, which liberated the spineless bully's moneybag from him.
No one noticed, except Tor, who, uncharacteristically in his present state of numb ennui, had been intently watching the Thief, as soon as he had entered his line of sight. Even now, his eyes stalked the youthful Thief, like prey, because there was something disturbingly familiar in the way he moved, in the way he held himself, despite the fact that Tor had never seen the clever boy with the tremulous lameness of leg and arm before.
However, Tor's interest waned and exhausted itself, once he lost sight of the awkward and ... well-monied Thief in the loud, jostling crowd.
But now, he was half listening to an unfamiliarly accented, low Voice woefully going on and on beside him, about the city gates being "locked indefinitely," before asking him what he thought.
Tor leaned his throbbing, muddled head back against the filthy wall a long while, because he did not care to think ... which he truly could not at the moment.
He did mildly agree to whomever, that there had "to be someway out"; but, for himself, it was "not worth the trouble or the blood to draw" his axes; despite the fact he was not finding "much comfort" from his "vexations in the drink, the herbs, or ... the company."
The Voice answered and ... changed ... and Tor's Heart ... his ... heart--.
"Surely, anahk Tor of The Csokas, you have seen and caused worse 'vexations' than you now feel. So, do not bother lying to yourself or to me, or bother trying to drown it from your senses, Betrayer."
Tor swallowed hard the last of the spit quickly evaporating from his mouth and throat. Except Her, no one these past years had ever called him "Betrayer"; not directly to him, not if truly knowing who he was. They said it of him in general reference, never knowing exactly who he was.
Those few who acknowledged that they recognized him, oftentimes, would approach in red, hysterical anger, before falling back in alarmed and wise cowardice, because they abruptly realized just how acutely they feared him. And suddenly, their unfortunate lives became far more cherishable than whatever grudge they held against him and his deadly broad-axes.
And, their grudges were great, many, and intensely personal. But, not enough to face The Destroyer.
A few, who were too stupid, too desolate, or too ... something would fling themselves at him in a heated white frenzy--to die in suicidal madness because ... they could not kill him.
The Mare or Nature or Whoever would not permit it.
He was protected. At least from the stupid ones -- seeking ... Justice. The others, who knew him, avoided him. This small, brusque person beside him with the strange accent ... and Voice that penetrated him did not fear him or avoid him ... and yet knew him.
Tor slowly turned to see.
The Thief's dark, burning eyes seared deep into his from among the swaddling, thickly obscuring face veils for a brief eternity, before Tor realized the boy was smoothly slipping away, despite his infirmities. Leaving. He was already far away and by the door, before the former General, the former Prince Consort realized it.
The Thief left.
Tor bolted to his feet and, stumbling into things and people, followed. To him, this was further proof that Dara was purposely driving him insane, from wherever she was, as she physically hid herself from him, these years, as she MindWalked with thorn soles through his mind.
There was no doubt in that. It wasn't merely fear, longing, or delusion. He knew it was so.
Whenever he sought hard to find her, whenever he knew he was close, that someone had recently seen her and he was nearly in reach of her -- something ... ALWAYS something ... or someone worked against him.
Most times it was simply misinformation from people too ignorant of terrain or human character to give him the correct intelligence to track her. Sometimes it was Nature Herself, or ... The Great Mare, or whatever, whoever Great Power kept a man from finding the woman he loved.
The one woman, who most had a worthy reason to abhor every inch of him.
Whatever it was, whose ever God or Goddess it was, it ALWAYS detained him when he was so close he could follow Dara's trail with his own eyes, so close he could nearly smell her ... taste her. That was ALWAYS when the Skies or the Earth or the Rivers would send an early, violent tempest or tumult before the normal early, violent tempest or tumult season.
And, her trail would, literally, be erased from before his starving eyes.
Now, he was shakily tracking a slim, shrouded, and no longer crippled and halting of gait creature through the crowded streets of Tashk't, a slim, nimble creature he believed ... wanted to believe ... was so afraid to believe was Her.
It ... he ... she could not be. Could not be Her. She had kept him from her all this inconsolable time, in utter Contempt of him. Kept him far from her. Therefore, there was no hope. Because why would Her Ka now appear, as a shade ... an anxious ghost ... as Her Ever Beguiling and Dangerous Double, seen by others, to hurriedly lead him now, down twisting, nauseatingly winding streets and foul, congested alleys he never cared existed?
He momentarily lost sight of the troubling, duplicitous spirit around a blind, double corner serpent turn, which sent his anxious heart and mind into greater despair, as he pushed to keep up, in his frantic exhaustion.
She ... he ... it ... was waiting for him around the next high walled turn. This sandy alley ran through a residential quarter, one of the better ones; a highborn woman, who had greatly wanted him to remain at her side, had brought him to her home near here. He had gone home with her because he had been acutely lonely and something in her manner had reminded him of Dara, but more so Her Beloved Sister and Queen, Sera.
He had enjoyed the hospitality of but had not lain with the woman, who had cloyingly offered any or all of her serving maids to him as well, if he would stay. He had made it vehemently clear he would not, and that he would not appreciate her sending anyone to retrieve or woo him, at least not anyone she did not want sent back to her dead. And in many bloody pieces.
The shade, the youth, this Thief ... Dara ... Dara's Double, whatever it was, was waiting for him.
Tor slid along the wall to it, coughing harshly because of the dust and stumbling over himself because he was fatigued from miniscule sleep. Sleep that, even more and more now, when it did come to him, fiercely and relentlessly stampeded and trampled his dreams with spirit herds of wild horse, sent after his disconsolated soul by Her, by His Dara, The Little Mare.
And his body, too, was breaking from imbibing a great deal more liquor and bhanj laced with opiates than he consumed food.
It ... he ... she ... beckoned, he went to it, and mindlessly did what it desired of him. It wanted a boost, a leg up. Without question, without argument or pause he gave himself in service to it. The creature had weight and smelled of manscented fabric, old leather, shitty dirt, and animal musk, as it lightly stepped onto his thigh, into his proffered palms, then vaulted over the garden wall to disappear.
Tor switched to the far side to see where it had gone. He could not see past the imported treetops and structures on the other side, and so plopped down to sit in the dirt to wait.
He was alone the better part of ten minutes before the perverse Demon Thief sailed over the wall, to land in a dusty tumble directly in front of him. The small phantom that was haunting and taunting him had obtained a rather heavy looking package, which was strapped to its back.
That was all it quietly, emphatically said, then lightly ... swiftly ran off, up the alley. Sounds of weapons clanking and angry men's alarmed voices came from behind the wall, as he left them behind in his frantic pursuit of this slippery, elusive thing, this Mind Thief. Not because he feared the men or their weapons but because the Thief, the torturous spirit, the ... whatever, whoever it truly was, was leaving him.
He barely saw it enter an old house of old money, and followed, stepping from the late day sun into the dark shadowed, cool interior -- without question or personal mortal fear.
He was in error not to be.
* * * *
The rich, old house had many doorways, too many rooms for someone far too tired to search them all. She ... it ... the Demon Ka was not in any of the rooms that he peered into, not before a quiet, intelligent Boy of twelve or so appeared, wearing a natural coloured tribal gown and skullcap of one of the local tribes, yet he himself was plainly of far eastern blood.
The Boy was alert, apparently expectant, and not yet frightened at the General's looming presence, as he solicitously asked Tor to "please follow". Tor only hesitated a second, before he was shown to a comfortable place to sit and the Boy brought him food. He did not ask where the ... thing he was pursuing had gone because his mind was now in blank exhaustion, in the receding aftermath of the excitement of pursuit, and it now only did what it was told.
As long as he remained physically unthreatened. If he had felt true danger, he would have become alert; however, even then, probably only to acknowledge that he did not care if he were or were not in imminent danger of forfeiting his life.
He ate and drank what was put initially before him, but refused additional servings. His body was hungry still but again he did not care and felt what he had ingested would sustain him and nominally show he appreciated the hospitality.
The Boy quietly led him deeper into the large house, into a mosaic walled room with a hot, pool bath. It, like the entire house, had been sumptuous in its day, but was now somewhat faded, yet serviceable, comfortable. Tor welcomed the bath without complaint and thought he dimly remembered having fully cold bathed perhaps a month or more before.
He did not know what sort of soap the Boy provided, though it had an astringent in it and burned slightly but comfortably. Its plant scent reminded him of soap Dara would make for those who might or did have infections, cuts, or bugs of the skin and hair.
The bath was made in such a way that one could rest or sleep upright quite comfortably, without slipping to one's Blessed Death under the water's calm surface. And, sometime during one of the times he was fully submerged, soaking hair and scalp -- the Boy left with his filthy and only clothes. And, his hand weapons.
He sighed and let it go; if this were a trap, he would die clean and relaxed.
He laid back his heavy, distressed head. His loosened black hair floating around and away from him, along with his troubled consciousness, as the edges of his mind slipped between the peaceful feel of the hot water on his warm, dark skin and those windy, desolate steppes of heightened mental and spiritual torments. There, wild horses, commanded by Queen Dara of The Great Mare, viciously hunted Tor's agonized spirit and besieged sanity.
He heard someone slip into the water ... or, more accurately, unalarmed for his life and just as uncaring, he did not perceive The Other enter the water at all, but did hear it smack the water's surface to gain his attention.
Tor sat bolt straight, all his senses bordering on awed terror, upon seeing ... or believing he saw ... Dara -- naked and moving minutely towards him through the hot water and steam; stalking him like a wildcat before it charges its prey.
She was thinner, which made her appear more muscular than when he had last seen her, because the plump pregnancy weight she had had then was now gone, and so was some of her regular weight. In another time and place, it would have bothered him to see her so thin, although, she was not unpleasantly....
Her body had always secretly delighted him in that she seemed thinner with clothes on, because when, in their intimate privacy, he would remove the layers of fine fabrics she wore and the true delicious fullness of her nakedness greatly pleased his eyes. Most greatly pleased all of his hungering senses.
This Dara, however, was starkly slimmer, or more precisely, sharper edged and her hips were somewhat wider to his discerning eye, plainly from bringing a child to full term in her womb--.
Krel's Voice startled him. "Midwife," it said, in a husky soft tone of bemused reproach, as always.
He very distinctly heard Krel's bodiless voice, and it laughed softly at him, before leaving.
Tor cupped his rough hands over his ears -- realizing from experience that the gesture was futile. He shut his eyes tightly, as well, hoping the semi-floating, nude phantom with the mirrorlike dark eyes and His Brother's Voice from beyond the Veil of Death would for once both leave him be or outright kill him, but not minisculely torture him anymore.
His eyes involuntarily opened and his hands fell away when he felt her hot, shapely body against his own. A patch of silver was streaked through the creature's hair. Dara did not ... had not had that before ...The Betrayal. His Betrayal.
Tor cried, the tears flowing down hot and silent.
She ... it pulled back, aghast.
"So, anahk Tor ... The Destroyer ... cries? What have you to cry about, Murdering Betrayer?"
He said nothing, only uncontrollably shivered with dread, as he reluctantly gazed away from her. Her warm lips touched his cold ear, her soft, hot breath radiating, penetrating into the depths of his tortured mind.
"Do you love me, Tor?"
He avoided the gaze of his nemesis' glossy eyes, as his tears continued mutely, flooding unchecked from the belly of his soul. When he finally answered, his throat was constricted, his voice a bare whisper.
"Yes. But, you are not here. You are never really here, with me. I never found you. You forbade that I should."
He stopped a long while, and she ... it ... patiently, petulantly waited, and he still could not look in its ... in her eyes.
"Before I ... wronged you, I never truly believed there were ... events ... demons that follow us day and night, that torture those of us who ... do ... unjustified ... evil."
He braved to look full into the unearthly, burnished mirror eyes.
"I was wrong."
She ... it ... stared at him from the deepest, hardest depths of its dark eyes and he loved the feel of Her ... of It against him, yet he wanted her ... it ... to leave him be. He had often, too often "felt" her against him, had "felt" himself deep within her and ... ALWAYS IT WAS A LIE, a lie of insanity or wine or--.
He felt her mouth on his, her ... its--. He repeated to himself that It was not Her. Though It looked like Her. Felt like Her. As always before. But ... But he felt her questing tongue against his own ... for too brief a time.
He yearned to have her, as he had so many previous times, phantom times, and sighed, loudly and disconsolately. When he had indulged that greatest of desires before ... to have her and had met her ... like this, in a waking dream, awaking inside another dream, in that part of his mind where he could feel he actually touched Her, was actually touched by Her ... like this.
This ... torment.
Like this, when he knew he was truly least sane; least sober; least ... just least.
Returning to the "normal" afterwards, to everyday consciousness always ... "betrayed" him, because "She" would be gone; and he would be soaked and spent from his own intense desires, but not from the sweat and lust of hers.
It was what Dara did to him. It was how She punished him, tortured him.
Sometimes it was just a dream.
Sometimes, on rarest of occasions, it was ... Her ... Her Double. Her Spirit's Double; substantial and actually touching him. Unfairly arousing him.
Most times he could not tell which, mere dream or deadly Double, when fully engrossed by Dara's phantoms. Nor did he truly care, because no matter who or what came for him, in Her stead. In the night. In the day. Asleep or awake. To his mind, they were too much a part of Her not to fool him, not to win him, and confuse him.
Plus, Tor wanted to be fooled, anything to have a bit of her with him.
Today, though, this ... Creature was too ... tangible. She ... It ... She ... felt, tasted, and smelled so ... so very real.
Who better to torment you, than someone, who once loved you greatly; and, who now abhors you? Someone, a near goddess, with the Power to sensuously caress you to desire with love ... or angrily strike you with the power of a lightening blow, leaving you to a slow and shriekingly painful death.
She'd struck him like that, and nearly left him to die ... then.... Had struck him from a great distance, with no other "real" weapon save Her Will's Hand ... and Her Rage ... BEFORE being betrayed by Her Mate -- Tor.
"I was wrong."
"An acknowledgement of error? An apology? I do not believe you, Betrayer. Besides remaining a heartless, cold murderer, your facile tongue now lies with soulless ease, as well. No, wait, you always lied, as you lay with me, made Life with me, then--.
He felt affronted by her callousness and the feeling surprised him. Her ... its--. Tor had to remind himself that this It before him was not actually Her -- Its callousness was justified; but, it angered him anyway.
"Queen of Great Discontent, torture me as you like, as you always do. I care not. It is Your ... Her ... it is Dara's Privilege and the only rea- ... the only reason you ever come to me now, or speak to me ... touch ... me. My Queen, I have killed ... murdered ... for you. I ... have died ... for you ... without you. But, never ask me to ... to forsake My Love ... for you -- it is all that I am. It is the only pure ... it is all that remains of ... me."
"You still breathe, still live, while others do not."
"I ... have ... not ... wanted ... to live, Dara; except ... when dying ... in Celaden's--. Sometimes I think I dreamed.... No. I ... I am ... c-certain, for you ... called me ... by name ... 'Betrayer'." He glanced away, deep into his taxing memories, in his extreme exhaustion.
"You ... forbade ... me ... to die. Your breath ... hot, as now ... on my ... frozen skin ... lips searing my ear, when...."
He stopped too fatigued and confused--.
"Tor? What do you believe me to be?"
[End of Excerpt, Book Two]
In ancient times, a legendary half Egyptian general's rage and jealousy may be his downfall, when he seeks to break a sacred alliance between his Amazon shaman / sorceress mate and her allies.
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