Monday Blast: Her Dark Soul

I thought I’d dig out an excerpt from an old book…so here’s a short excerpt from Her Dark Soul, my EC menage.


(c)2010 Kim Knox

They’d sold her.

When the sun broke the horizon, a stranger—a custodian—would come and take her from the temple. Ash stared at the quiet colonnades surrounding the small courtyard. The central fountain splashed water into the pre-dawn darkness and the light breeze swept cool air across the marble floor, bringing with it the familiar scents of chamomile and wild jasmine. She’d taken her first steps between the great ceramic pots lining the courtyard. The memory of the cool marble beneath her bare toes, bright sunlight, the laughter and joy as she toddled to Rani tightened her throat. This was her home.

Ash sank onto a cold stone bench, her thin shift little protection against the chill of the dawn air. She’d grown up in the Temple of Fausta, worshipped the goddess for the good fortune that had taken her from the Street of Cries. Without Rani plucking her from the clutch of abandoned newborns, she would have died like so many other unwanted and exposed babies. Chance had been with her that day.

She ran her hand over her tightly braided hair and the knot in her stomach twisted tight. She should’ve remembered that her goddess was a fickle creature. The priests had read the signs and she was no longer needed to serve Fausta. She bit her lip, denying the tears that burned in her eyes.

“Ash.” Rani’s soft voice carried on the dark air. A wry smile lifted her mouth. Yes, he could never sleep. He lifted an oil lamp, its yellow light washing over the stone steps leading down from Ash’s room. “You have to come inside.” He tugged the wool cloak tight around his narrow shoulders and shivered. “It’s too cold to be sitting out here on all this stone.”

He swung the lamp around the courtyard, stretching its light to the shadow-heavy corners. “And it’s not safe. Those thieves…” His soft voice took on a hard edge, one she’d never heard him use before. Rani was the essence of calm, but the desecration a few days before had all the priests rattled.

“Breaking into the sanctuary. Almost killing a ward.” He pulled in a shaking breath. “May the dark half of the goddess’s heart find them.” Rani’s curse hung on the chill air. He pressed a long hand to his smooth jaw and closed his eyes. His lips moved, silent, quick and she knew he whispered a counter-prayer over his own fortune.

He was the one who found little Kia in the sanctuary, her veins cut. Why she’d been out of her room, no one knew, but she was new to sleeping alone in her cell. She had wandered in the night, looking for the safety of her old shared room, and discovered the thieves instead. Only Rani’s inability to sleep had saved her, the goddess’s whim taking him to the sanctuary on his night walks.

The goddess had added a further kindness. Kia had no memory of the night. Still, anger tightened Ash’s body. Why would the thieves attack a child? The Temple of Fausta didn’t hold anything precious enough to warrant it.

Ash pushed herself to her feet and her leather sandals slapped against the marble as she crossed the courtyard. She curled her fingers into her palms, the pain of her nails in her flesh denying the twisting emotions gripping her. Anger, fear had her thoughts spinning.

Her gaze darted over Rani’s wrinkled face, the lamplight casting heavy shadows over his beardless jaw. He was the only parent she had ever had. And when the sun rose, she would never see him again. Her chest hurt and she wanted nothing more than to bury her face against his shoulder, but she couldn’t. She had to accept the whim of her goddess. They all did. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Rani took her curled fist, his long, smooth fingers easing hers free. “I was there for the reading, Ash. The fall of the pattern…” He squeezed her hand. “I would not see you go from here. Never.” He pulled in a heavy breath and his lips pressed together. “But the thieves—and what they did—forced us to consult the goddess.”

“And I have to go.”

“The marked ward, yes.” He twitched her a smile, but a heavy shadow darkened his blue eyes. “Kia…” He let out a long sigh. “She’s recovering…but the nurse doesn’t know whether she’ll remember. It will be a blessing if she doesn’t. And then tomorrow I must go to the Street of Cries and bring another to the temple.”

The duty of choosing always hung heavy on him, Ash knew that and she wanted to ease his pain. She’d been the first baby he’d saved. The marked ward, as she was known in the temple. The ward with the strange birthmark chasing down her spine. Others had stains marring their flesh, but they were nothing compared to the swirl of pattern covering her skin. “Then something good comes from this, from my leaving.” She turned back to the wide steps and Rani’s lamp lit the way. The dark archway led into a short corridor and the door to her cell.

The first prayer bell rang in the still air and her stomach turned over. Her need to follow the other wards into the great hall, to prostrate herself and begin the first prayer itched under her skin. Since she was four years old, it had been the start of her day. Doors creaked and Yeva and Tamina stepped out of their cells, tying back their hair and stifling yawns.

Yeva blinked, her dark gaze darting from Ash to Rani. “Ash…?”

Rani hushed her and stepped aside. “Find your way to the great hall.” He waved them past him.

Both women gave a brief nod and trotted down the steps to disappear into the shadows. The chatter of younger girls, their quickly hushed giggles and the soft murmurs of the priests filled the quiet air. Ash ached to follow, to find renewed comfort in the long days of prayer, of chanting and singing to ensure the good fortune of the emperor and the city of Bukhara. And not to think about the stranger, the man who would take her away from her safe world.

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