Countdown to A Sign in Blood - Day One
To celebrate, I'm going to do a 5 Day Release Countdown right here on my blog. Starting today, and continuing until July 4th (release day!), I'll talk about a different aspect of the book, from the world to the characters and why I loved them so and just had to write the story.
And, on each countdown day, all the commenters will be entered into a drawing in which 5 people will get a free copy of the book. I'll announce the winners on July 4th, the day the book is released. So come on over and join the fun! Don't be shy, jump into the comments and let me know you're here so I can give you a book!! :-D
And now back to your semi-regularly scheduled programming... Today, I'm posting the book's prologue. Prologues have fallen somewhat out of fashion, which overall is fine with me, but I love this prologue. I can't see A Sign in Blood without it.
Chadri reeled when the priest released her arm. Even without the blindfold she wore, there would be nothing to see inside the cave. She heard the priest's retreating footsteps and counted the passing heartbeats, straining to catch some other sound. For three hundred and ten rapid beats of her heart, she heard nothing.
Finally, rumbling reached her ears. The sound of rock grinding rock as the priest reached the mouth of the cave and her clan rolled the sealing stone into place.
The Ordeal had begun.
The rumble died away. Chadri's harsh breath and the thump of her heart contrasted the silence, deepening it. She rubbed her bare feet against the stone to prove the ground remained solid. Her mind conjured landscapes of jutting rocks and hostile eyes. On the verge of tears, she jerked away the blindfold.
It made no difference. The darkness was true and complete, concealing even the suggestions of shape. She had promised herself she wouldn't begin the Ordeal with tears, that she would face her passage into adulthood with maturity. Her feet tingled with the cold of the cavern floor. Her robe did little to ward off the damp chill.
They wouldn't leave me here if there were dangers, she told herself to ease the quivering in her gut. Whisper-soft sounds flitted around her. Fear transformed the breezes into breath upon her neck. Alone in the dark, Chadri felt exposed. She found stone to press her back against and mastered the urge to speak a rune and summon a runist light. It would invalidate the Ordeal, and she felt too out of control to handle the power.
I'd burn myself to a cinder. Besides, they wouldn't do this if there were dangers. She'd been the butt of pranks, sometimes sneered at for her mixed heritage, her Devsari blood, but her clan wouldn't harm her. Trying to believe that, she shut out any memory that might contradict it.
Two years ago her cousin Karsae had passed through the Ordeal into adulthood. She remembered watching him afterward as he knelt to give his oath. Most of all, she remembered the pride blossoming in her grandfather's eyes.
Time crawled. Hunger set in, gnawing at her gut while thirst made her throat ache. She shook with subdued tension and the realization forced her to control herself. She squeezed her eyes shut. I am not a child. I will not cower in the dark.
Chadri centered herself, preparing for a trance. At first her efforts to breathe through the fear were ruined by every brush of dank air, every small sound. Eventually, the repetition itself became calming. The very fact that nothing had happened seemed more and more to mean that nothing would. Chadri slipped deeper into meditation.
She remembered her father's hand in hers, an impression of her mother's voice filling the background. The voice itself was lost to her memory, as was the image of her mother's face, but the knowledge that it had once been there still made her ache.
Her concentration interrupted by stinging tears, she dashed them away and bent her head, her jaw set. She would See. She knew she would. She would See, and her grandfather would smile at her with pride.
He said he sometimes found it hard to look at her. Her red-brown hair and sand-brown skin marked her as half-Devsari. Her eyes, he'd said, were the worst: a riot of blue, gray, and green and distinctly not Bensas. It seemed the one thing that pleased him was the triad of irregular birthmarks on her wrists, for they marked her Bensas godline and reminded him that she was his blood. Chadri drew in a deep breath, pushing herself once again into the meditation.
She remembered the fever that took her mother. They had both burned with it, tossing in bed. Her mother's arm cradled Chadri's cheek, too hot to provide any relief. Raised voices drifted to her, filled with tones that made her belly tight. Her father should never sound that way, so angry and upset. The memory dissolved into vague impression.
Hissing her frustration, Chadri opened her eyes to glare at nothing. She had to See. Her power was useless and brought no honor to the clan. She'd overheard her grandfather blame her lack of control on the godlines she bore from both her mother and her father. He thought the remnants of such powerful blood couldn't help but overwhelm the will of someone of her mixed heritage. She could swing a sword, but she had no special skill at it. Seeing was her last hope. Chadri bowed her head once more, letting the drafts lull her.
The faint screech of stone on stone echoed in the cave.
Buried in her trance, Chadri shivered. The sound transmuted in her mind and became something familiar, a scream torn from the roots of her, dragged through the corridors of recollection. It ripped her open and pushed the memories forward to pour out into the blackness.
Her father knelt, his intestines filling one blood-covered hand. With the other he drew a sigil upon a golden wall, drew it in his own blood. He turned, slumping against the temple's wall. When she found courage enough to meet his eyes, green and blue and gray all at once, they were glazed, unseeing.
She'd curled in on herself by the time they reached her, sobs shuddering along her body. Her clan's gentle hands and soft voices soothed her. Their dim runist light blazed in her eyes as she opened them. She blinked at it until her vision began to adjust, revealing the familiar faces of cousins, aunts, and uncles. The sight was watery, seen through tears.
She let them help her up, took grateful sips of the water they offered, and composed herself as they led her from the cavern. The escorts took her to the caves of her grandfather. As Morabi of the Malinkae Clan, it was to him that she would give her oath. He waited in the common room, a massive cavern at the center of the clan's spring complex. Home to generations, the soot of countless fires stained its ceiling. Her clan waited at the edges of the space, falling silent at Chadri's entrance. They left open a path of bare rock leading to the dais upon which her grandfather sat. The Bensas never built structures, preferring to live close to the devae of stone and strength. It was an example she struggled to follow.
Her legs shook and her body trembled with want for food and rest. Nonetheless, she pulled free of the helping hands and lurched toward the dais.
The whole clan had gathered to witness her passage into adulthood, but few mattered. She spotted Nathias easily. The woman was all she had of a mother, since her own had passed. Nathias' tall, stocky figure stood out, made paler when surrounded by the Bensas' darkness. The gray-streaked-black hair that marked her Nirafel godline hung free of its perpetual braid, falling over her hunched shoulders. Pride shone on her weathered face, and seeing her almost brought a smile to Chadri's lips, but even the woman who had raised her could not hold her attention.
Chadri's gaze moved back to her grandfather. He sat straight as a column in his carved throne. The annual winter floods had worn away the sharpness, and there were chips and cracks in the stone surface. To Chadri, the throne was much like her grandfather: hard as rock, but with smoothed edges. His dark eyes fixed on her, his face framed by frizzy gray hair.
"Have you Seen?" he asked as Chadri reached him.
She didn't want to answer, didn't want to disappoint him.
"I have not." The words tried to stick in her throat. She had to fight to look him in the face while admitting it. Memory was not sight. Her power remained wild, hard to control, and the Ordeal hadn't changed that. His wrinkles were set in frowning lines, but he showed no further reaction.
"Kneel and speak your oath."
Chadri collapsed to her knees on a thin cushion, ignoring the bruising sting of the stone beneath. She lowered her face, closing her eyes.
"Before my clan," she said, fighting the tremors in her voice, "before the devae, before all, I declare my oath shall be to find my father's murderer and resolve the blood-debt between us." Gasps filled the cavern, followed by murmurs. Her oath would mean she would have to leave the Bensas, her mother's people, and return to the city of her birth. Chadri ignored them as her gaze slid to her grandfather's face. She swelled with the pride she found there.