Rook 1.1: Blood in the Well

Rook 1.1: Blood in the Well

Photo by Charis Ooms

Photo by Charis Ooms

* The Haunt

There’s a haunt who walks a web of side-streets, where the shadows rise above the stars. In the mornings, he descends a swollen set of stairs to wait down by the docks. Here, he watches the ships sail into Perlora’s harbor. Nobody takes notice of him, except for six old fishermen, who miss nothing. It’s them who’ve dubbed him the haunt, as no one claims to have heard his name spoken aloud.

“I can see a nightmare,” says Frallo, blind, and feeling for his friend’s arm to point. “I can see it churning, even from far across the quay.”

“I see it, too,” says Ran, his voice deep like the wolf’s warning growl.

With the nine-thirty whistle, the haunt promptly turns away, dawn after dawn, his sought-after vessel still unseen. He carries his darkness up through the archway and back into the sandstone kasbah, a district that covers the coastline hill. His atmosphere diffuses into the incomprehensible, a maze of shops and houses, alliances and feuds, a million tangled wars.

Within the walls, humidity’s haze swallows the haunt, the city’s smoldering activity, and although the fishermen lose sight of him then, they talk about him, and assume he wanders first the main streets, which bend upward from the water’s edge, like strands of hair from a comb. They assume he passes by the open windows, looks in at sleeping families, and swallows-up their dreams. They assume he vanishes into the mesh of alleys, of ladders and catwalks, of catacombs and sewer-ways, which have never been recorded on a modern map, for in this place, too much exists that can be accounted for.

Frallo claims the haunt is not from Perlora, and perhaps not even from Sorcho either. The haunt could come from deep below the planet’s surface, from the mines up north in Capre. The haunt could come from somewhere far outside the invisible shell, which, as the ancestors say, used to bring-in visitors from time to time. This haunt may be something separate from them, a foreign entity, taking human form. To hide his difference, exhibits Frallo, the haunt wears his black cloak, covering his arms and hiding his face. The haunt wears what nobody would wear in town, but still blends in, being so different, he disappears.

And, on a long-irrelevant anniversary, Perlora explodes into an expected tussle. The fishermen, having seen this celebration a hundred times, experience little joy from the festivities, so they remain where they belong, where the fish come up to feed. They listen as the children learn of the final emperor’s beheading, and Ran says, “I can see the haunt standing at his post.

“A sparkle flashes, green from his eye.”

He notes how the haunt is smiling, a toothless mouth, big and evil, crusted like the devil’s grin.

Then, as with every day before, the haunt slowly turns and returns to the streets, but each of the six men, holding loose their lines, know by instinct that they’ve seen the last of the haunt, that the haunt has spotted whatever ship he was looking for out in the crowded sea. And, although this must mean ill omens might befall someone precious soon, or maybe many people in Perlora, the old men feel relief, because now their mornings will be free of the haunt, and they can drift back into the peaceful paradise of undisturbed routine. All they’d ever worked for.

* Blood in the Well

Nyste neared the top of the hill, leaping ledges, and bounding from stone to stone. From a final run, he scrambled vertical up a boulder with his hands. Wrapping his inner arm around the base of a column, he hoisted himself to the summit, and then laid flat on his back, down on the smooth mosaic floor.

The ceiling above was older than recorded history, and dust dropped perpetual, like ash, from the bottom. Roots reached out from cracks in the frail relic, and ivy twirled down the chipped and chalky Doric bones. Fresh air whistled-in through the structure, as no walls stood to stop the wind.

“Last week,” said Yerroth, “I was here when the season’s first rains came in from off the ocean. I watched the clouds break apart on the hills and scatter over Perlora. The rain then fell in separate patches, soaking some neighborhoods, and leaving others dry.

“I returned to The Inglenook, and nobody was aware that there were places in their own city, where it hadn’t rained that day. You see, so much happens that we don’t know.”

“The air is different up here,” said Nyste. “It tastes lighter. It’s easier to take in.”

“That’s because you’re out of the streets, out of the filth,” said Yerroth, coming around a column and closer to his son. He extended his arm and Nyste took it by the wrist. Yerroth pulled Nyste to his feet with a grunt, the kid no longer light enough to lift on a whim.

“The air is different here, because it hasn’t been corrupted. This is the air we were born to breathe.”

He gripped Nyste by the shoulder, and shook him, affirming the solid moment, suggesting that these were seconds to be remembered, here on the Perlo Hill. Then, letting him catch his breath, Yerroth turned away and walked to the cliff-face edge. He put one leg up on a protruded slab, once a functional compass, with rose-lines etched deep into the speckled granite, now turned counter-directional like a runner’s worn kneecap. Yerroth leaned one arm hard against a marble pillar, trusting its placement to keep against his rigorous, vital, pressing weight. The moon was tinted a pale lavender today and orbited close enough to touch, taking up half the morning sky alone.

“I once knew the names of all the craters,” he said, in dream-tone. “I knew them all by heart, when I was your age.

“You never get such a good view as this when you’re down in the streets below. We live with so many distractions, I forget the moon is up here. I forget about space and the stars.”

He turned to look at Nyste as he spoke.

“I used to long for the day that, as a species, we’d leave Sorcho for our moon, our second home. We know it so well, so intimately, yet nobody’s ever touched it with their hands. None of us have ever drained its soil through our fingers. We’ve only seen it through the glass. We’ve only made conjectures of how it must feel to walk along the canyon rims. And, as the calendar turns, and my beard grows wilder and grey, I wake every morning to see that nobody’s yet developed the wings we’d need to fly. Still. After my whole life, a life of watching technology change us. I had too much faith in our potential for progress, perhaps. Or, maybe I should have spent my years studying the secret of the gulls, and less time arguing with the council on how to further tax the poor without them noticing.”

He curved his back and stretched himself, taking in the lunar rays.

“Do you remember how to find the crater that we named you for?”

Nyste approached the ledge in silence and stood beside his father. The man was a head-taller than him, and according to the women in town, Nyste would never match Yerroth in height, being fully grown. They whispered that he’d never match him in strength or reputation, either, not at this rate. For this reason, Nyste didn’t care about scattered scars speckling the moon.

“I’ve never seen the edge of town before,” he said. “Are those the limits over there? I see trees beyond that mountain.”

He pointed, directing his father’s eyes over eight of the twelve Perloran hills, which rolled and rose below. While Yerroth looked onward, Nyste glanced behind them, toward the opposite end of the acropolis, planted here on the central overlook, and he saw how the other three were spaced-out farther, like placid waves which swam up in the south, regions he’d rarely had any interest to visit, those hills being known for their dull manners, their repetitive traditions, their overly conservative moral values, their prudish girls…

“No,” said Yerroth, “that’s not the limit. The city continues-on beyond that hill for another twenty-five miles, although the density does greatly thin out at the old city walls. You’re seeing the monastery woods.”

“I’ve never seen so many trees collected together in one place like that,” said Nyste, squinting for focus, arranging the spread of the sun into lines.

“The forest is very old,” said Yerroth. “The monks refuse to let us use the trees for lumber. And, they’ve refused to let us develop the space, since even before the Emperors were overthrown. Because some say it’s a holy place, the monks have remained exempt from all our laws, and as long as this superstition holds, that land will remain the only example of what this region would have looked like before we blanketed it over with stone, mined-out from the mountains, covering the out with the in.

“It’s interesting that those woods caught your eye, Nyste, as it’s some of the only solace left remaining here, except for on this summit, or, as your uncle may argue, on the relaxing crescent of the coast.”

“Is that the astronomer’s tower?” pointed Nyste. “I don’t remember it being so low in altitude, or this close to home. It took us all day to get there when we went, and I remember it felt like we were so high above the world then, up on the Lookout’s ledge, like we were dipping into the farther galaxy.”

“You were a child,” laughed Yerroth, “and you don’t remember it well. The observatory is tall enough for its purposes, and it only takes a few hours to walk there from Perlo, if you can manage to remember the most direct route to take around Rodva.”

With this, Yerroth followed the roads with his eyes, memorized on foot, but confused when seen from the bird’s eye view.

“The closer you are,” he said, “the more it dances with active life, but from here, the streets are still and quiet, unimportant and unanimated, the wrinkled skin of a dried fruit. I wonder if men found this land and thought it was enchanted. And, with the myth of enchantment, many came until they covered-over all the magic, leaving a perfect world steeped in human refuse.”

He cleared his throat and stared forward at the several stars piercing the daylight, anxious to clear an irritation from his mind.

“When the council gathers today, we’re going to discuss the destruction of the slums on Rodva Hill.”

“Good,” said Nyste. “It’s about time that something was done with them.”

Yerroth stood still, dissuaded.

“Perlora is thousands of years old, and we’ve reformed its identity a million times over. Every hillside’s developed its own character and industry. Ours possesses the palace and the other ruling halls, and as we’re located in the center of the city, and everything grows out from where we are, we have always been the center of government and law. We’ve always settled the most minor of squabbles, and retained command over the military, campaigning without slowing through egregious combat. We are the brain which moves the pieces, no matter how large or small, no matter how consequential.

“The watchtower over on Fharress hosts those fighters and the Generals of the military class. They house the armory, and manufacture weapons at an unparalleled pace, even in times of peace.

“Even the lighthouse on Yarvos Island is atop a hill of sorts, and the buildings stacked on that craggy pile of land control all the commerce of the harbor and our trade with other, weaker populations throughout Sorcho. There,” he pivoted, pointing, “the theater tops the Therlin Mountain, giving precedence to the arts and architecture. And, so close beside, on Desedre, knowledge rules the quarter, as the observatory caps that bald-topped hill. You can see beneath, where the library and the boulevard of various museums hold all the information our world’s ever known, kept collected and cradled safely near us, in our center, in our core.

“Everywhere in Perlora, you can find what you need, and you can direct yourself to any neighborhood that best suits your temperament, except for in Rodva.

“It has always been a derelict, astray.

“Once, the old ones say, there were peaceful families there, and the draw to settling on its soil was that you didn’t want to be surrounded by only one particular style of life, not the industry of war, or theater, or academia. It wasn’t quiet like the southern mounts, but it wasn’t busy like Perlo. It was a wholesome, residential neighborhood, an orchard growing in the sunlight.

“But, somewhere along the line, Rodva’s indecisiveness turned to weakness, and this weakness broke the neighborhood apart. Without an industry to define it, Rodva isolated itself from the other districts of town, having no reason to meet or deal, having nothing unique to offer or trade. Descending into poverty, Rodva developed a reputation as a place for crooks with knives, lurking. Now, you’d only go there if you were looking for trouble, or perhaps to commit some crime, to satiate an illegal fetish. I used to go there when I was your age, with my friends, to prove the thickness of our skin, the effective push of our muscle. These days, the kids know it’d be madness to go there. I doubt they even joked the prospect when you were in school, thus is the caliber of Rodva’s fall.

“I think that people move there now only to hide from something shameful that they’ve done. In such a large city, sometimes it seems to me to be the only place to truly escape and start anew. But, no comfort is to be found there, no enjoyable times. The people are an angry bunch, quick to violence. They’ve become this way in order to survive. They are a product of their harsh environment, the circular wheel of surliness, breeding itself through its self-induced isolation.

“However, I have faith in the place, despite common opinion. I’ve steered you away from Rodva ever since you were an infant, and I think that was a wise choice, but I do regret it. Nowhere should be off-limits in our free city, and nowhere should be damned.

“I hope that we can visit some day and see it in the way our ancestors intended it to be, uncorrupted. I fear this dream’s akin to me sifting sands on the moon with my fingers, however. If I can achieve at least one of these goals in my lifetime, I’ll die happy and fulfilled. But, I worry.”

“How can you say you have faith in them?” asked Nyste. “How can you say you ever want to go there? The Rodvans are throat-slashers and kidnappers. They’d smother an old woman if it meant they could have a bag of coins, and it wouldn’t be the first time they’d done it either.”

“Simon and his followers have good ideas,” nodded Yerroth. “They want to move all the tenants to the valleys and the gulch where the real-estate is cheaper and still somewhat available. Then, they want to demolish the slums and build something fresh at the summit. Rodva is the only hill without any important monument or institution crowning it, and everyone agrees, it feels incomplete, and therefore, makes Perlora feel incomplete. Once we give Rodva a purpose, it won’t be such an eye-sore on Perlora, and will rid us of this smear of emptiness in this sea of vibrancy. Activity will prove our promise made through reputation, a promise to our visitors and our citizens alike.

“But, Rodva is protected by a merit of heritage. Perhaps it’s not contributing outwardly to the glory of our city, but with the right energy, I believe we could redirect its personality without relocating tens of thousands of people. We could inspire them. We could improve their lives.”

“Do you think you can really change people,” asked Nyste, shaking his head, “people who’ve spent their entire lives suppressed, hating and mistrusting the outside world?”

“Yes,” nodded Yerroth. “We can re-supplant their trust, and encourage them to create wealth for themselves.”

“Wouldn’t it be easier to do what Simon’s suggesting?” asked Nyste, the upward wind whipping at his hair. “Wouldn’t it be easier to move them?”

Nyste scanned the charred and blackened mole. No movement caught his attention. Typically, he looked past Rodva Hill, onto better lands beyond, Desedre and Vern. Every instinct urged him to look away, lest it notice.

“What does he want to put on Rodva Hill anyway?”

“Something inauthentic,” said Yerroth. He turned and began to pace, eyeing the tiles arranged by long-forgotten hands, arranged into subconscious spirals, reflecting the world beyond our visible.

“We have a list of public works projects running the length of the Fharress stairs, and we’ve been looking for spaces near the center to place them for years. We could build these institutions on the periphery of town, but nobody would go out that far except the farmers and those others who live out on the quiet edges.

“We’re thinking a garden with fountains and a hedge-puzzle, a labyrinth imitating the old street design of Rodva, once we demolish the place. Personally, I think the idea is insulting. Why destroy the stock that’s already standing, especially when I’ve heard the architecture is just as beautiful and unique as on Therlin?”

Nyste looked down at the main avenue, bisecting the city through the shallow valley, reaching from the sea to the Memorial Arch, and then splitting out into the main thoroughfares down below. A mass of people wearing colorful clothes clogged the streets, and he could hear the music and the drums, even from high up here.

“I almost forgot it was Retribution Day,” said Nyste. “Last year, I wouldn’t have missed a second of this, not for the world.”

“I’m glad you were able to come up and see this place with me,” said Yerroth, purple light reflecting from his face, rounded off the moon behind him. “My father took me here on Retribution Day when I was young, and asked that I be wise on the council, a voice of reason, when my time came to claim the post. Now that we are here, I’ll ask the same of you.

“Don’t give-in to ideas that you don’t believe at heart. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right to you, research the reason until you know, and then argue your stance with zeal.”

Nyste saw how Yerroth’s mouth was tight with seriousness. Nyste felt the breath pass through him, and all his muscles tighten, tears ripping from his eyes. A boy and his father.

“I promise,” he said. “I won’t mar the family name.”

“It is an old name,” said Yerroth, “and many old names rot and fall away. One great man’s character cannot possibly carry through his linage, down for generations unspoiled, but so far, ours has managed to stay in tact.

“You are a Mericetchi, son. Understand this, and keep that fact with you throughout your life. You do not need to live up to the name, but we all ask that you honor it.”

“I’ll do my best,” bowed Nyste.

“When the time comes that you help rule, the guards will let you in through the gates, so you will be able to use the stairs to get here. In a few years, your knees might prefer it. Perhaps that goes to show my biggest falter against our family’s legacy. This hill is our private mausoleum, and I’ve had to sneak you in. During my father’s day, this would have been the stuff of farce.”

They stepped away, into the center of the ancient parliament, where the wind blew through, like blood through the ventricles of a heart.

Yerroth led Nyste down the narrow stairs, through the splintered rock, to the quiet gardens growing. Here the hill’s open space spread out wide, and the willows reached with whimsical wisps, over the reflection of a glittering manmade pond. A stone wall held the pond in place on the incline, caked with hardened Sorcho, and as they crossed the bend, the wall rose up over their heads. Passing around, bronze tipped columns came into view, unveiled, supporting the red temple, wedged in-secret on the hill.

“The temple,” said Nyste, slowing his pace to savor the sight.

“It’s so strange to see it, real, when I’ve heard so much about it, from what the elders whisper. It feels familiar to me, although I’ve never seen it before.”

He stopped to survey it fairly.

“But, it’s less imposing than I imagined. I feel almost, disappointed. It’s as if it were hidden because it can’t live up to its reputation.”

“Before the golden era,” recounted Yerroth, “this would have been the most grand structure in Perlora, maybe even Sorcho, and it’s from that period where it’s supremacy was forged. But, the temple isn’t hidden behind the wall to enlargen its mythos, no. In the unrestricted day, this summit was not off-limits to the public. The guard-wall wasn’t built until my grandfather’s time.

“No, the council voted for the wall to secure their safety, as it was deemed a hazard to meet in a place where any radical could freely come-in and harm them. The whole purpose, in the beginning, was that everyone could come and watch the council. The rulers could keep no secrets.

“Alas, some values are lost and forgotten for the sake of the rich.”

As they came closer, they crossed a small bowed bridge over a quiet stream, flowing clear, sourced from a waterfall cut subtle from the edge of the pond’s stone wall.

“When this was still free-land, this was the epicenter of Retribution Day, as the temple commemorates the holiday’s purpose and spirit. Now, the temple is the only outpost of silence in the streets. This is probably the only place with enough peace to hear the sound of water coursing over rocks, at this speed. I’m sure this would have been a different sight a hundred years ago, or more.”

“Is that the statue of Ernos?” asked Nyste, unable to step closer, in awe.

“That it is,” said Yerroth. “The most famous statue that nobody’s allowed to see. We blocked a petition to have it moved outside the walls. We figure it’s better not to alter the plans of our ancestors in this matter, plus I’d prefer not to leave it susceptible to vandalism. The days of respect for the past are gone, and no symbol is safe. Perhaps we will begin a program involving tours in the future, for academics and curious minds with deep pockets. But you, Nyste, are allowed to see this without a cost. He is your ancestor, the victor of Perlora, Ernos the Striker.”

The words released Nyste and he ran toward the sculpture, towering twice the size of any mortal man, carved from black onyx. Ernos, looking to the sky, held his sword higher, his foot propped standing on the Emperor Vladian’s head.

“This is where he did it,” said Nyste, in shock. “This is where he freed Perlora from centuries of enslavement.”

“’Enslavement’ is a word with heavy connotations,” said Yerroth, approaching slowly behind, accustomed to fame’s weight borne on this site. “People need moments like the end of the Emperor-line to motivate themselves. The quality of life for most didn’t change with the removal of Vladian’s head, but they felt like it had. Ernos was a man who did something, when forever before, nobody had done anything, when something was all they’d wanted to do. Suddenly, everyone felt like they too, could do anything, and that was enough for most. The majority continued doing nothing different, nothing out of the ordinary.

“But, legends emerged, and Ernos took the title of an immortal. He took-on the status of a God. He was crowned King, and he declined the title. A decision that’s proved very useful to our family over the generations.”

“Is it true,” asked Nyste, removing his eyes from the statue for only a second, “that the sword he used to cut the Emperor down is still inside the tomb?

“Perhaps,” said Yerroth, seeing the child reemerging in his son. He resisted rustling his hair.

“They say it’s not buried with his bones,” said Nyste, “but in a secret place that will reveal itself in a time of great need for Perlora.”

“Perhaps it will show itself to you” said Yerroth. “For all the time I’ve spent around this place, it’s surely never shown itself to me. I even scoured thoroughly through the basement’s catacombs, back when I was younger and ready to purge the world of evil.

“But, it wasn’t all a useless project. Now, we know that the sword probably isn’t down there, and if you do decide to search for the sword, I can advise that you look somewhere on the higher levels.

“Also, don’t take to heart the myths and tales, not too much. It may come to waste your time. If the sixty-years wars with Yvers wasn’t a trying enough episode for our people, not apocalyptic enough for the sword to reveal itself as told in legend, then I don’t want to know what appalling times may lay ahead. I don’t want to think about the day it could be waiting for.”

“No,” disagreed Nyste, shaking his head frantically. “Perlora had all the advantages in that war. Although it was bloody, and we lost a lot of men, Yvers only managed to destroy two or three unimportant buildings along the trickling urban coast. We’ve been safe since the days of the Emperors. Safe, if you disregard the growing threat of gangs gathering in the Rodva slums. I think there’s a chance we’ll find the sword again. I think the time will come.”

Yerroth laughed, a heavy, deep, and rooted laugh.

“Do you think so now?

“I wouldn’t discount the million men who died keeping all but those three unimportant buildings standing, and I wouldn’t wish any ill upon everything in this world that I hold dear, but if you believe it’s us who’ll find the sword, then perhaps we will.

“Although,” he added, “I’d have no use for it at my age now. I would gift it to you, a treasure though it may be.”

“Do you think he looks like me?” Nyste asked, studying the sculpture.

“Aye,” said Yerroth, “we all have the same jaw-line, all us boys. We have the same hair-line too.”

“They made him look so perfect,” marveled Nyste.

“It’s doubtful he looked anything like this,” Yerroth commented. “He was dead a hundred years before they erected the statue here. The temple is contemporary to him though, so don’t lose faith that he hid the sword for you. Now come along with me, and let me show you the well. This is the reason I brought you here in the first place. We must conduct a baptism of sorts. It’s something we all have done, all of us in the line.”

The grass was tall here, sprouting in patches, untouched by gardeners with scythes or scissors, wherever it was able to grow, out of the inhospitable, rocky soil. Yerroth palmed the stalks as he passed, letting nothing escape him, and he felt envy for the grass, that it was allowed to live up here, where millions down below wished to stand for only seconds even, just to say they had, and all the grass had to do was grow, as it would grow anywhere else.

“Sorcho is a man like we are, a man made from a different flesh, or rather, we are made of various conditions of his, since it’s his our anatomy mimics. He too has veins that course beneath his skin, pneumatic rivers of splashing momentum, carrying forth all the needed elements of life from location to location within his flawless form.

“I’d like to say that this mound is his closed eyelid, prepped to open when he wakes, or maybe his closed mouth. Others may say we’re only a wrinkle in his armpit, Perlora, or perhaps an infection moldering at unspeakable regions on his body. I tend to mistrust these sorts of men, but that’s because they say what they say for shock-value, dishonoring words to gather quick, unearned attention. Somewhere deep down, they know they’re wrong, and they suffer for it, silently.

“No, whatever part this unique rock represents on Sorcho’s body, water wells beneath in plenty. Perlo Hill the highest point we know of in the world producing springs, and that’s why our ancestors saw this place as special. The water must work hard to rise here for a reason. So, they built a well, Perlora’s well, and Perlora’s earliest inhabitants subsisted from this spring, and those who remained here, grew stronger than the rest. Our ancestor, Ernos, was one such man, from a family of believers, inhabitants of the hill. He didn’t leave Perlo when it fell out of fashion, when the Emperor tried to claim it as his own. In fact, he was the last one to remain true to the spring, and when he slashed the head of the Emperor to preserve this place for his family, and for the freedom of all in Perlora, the water began to run red. His blood and the blood of Sorcho melded together, and this linkage to the planet has never left us, son. Draw a bucket, and see.”

Nyste looked questioningly at his father.

“I’ve drawn the water often before, at the common trough, downstream. It’s clear of iron or mud. The water is pure.”

“By the time it reaches there, the water has cleared itself for the commoners, yes,” said Yerroth, “but for you, up here, you will see how its blood is your own. And, although you have not earned this rite, it is bestowed upon you, and like me, your life will be marked from the moment you drink until the moment of your death, to live up to the honor of your name. The only way to repay the planet for this honor is to serve and to suffer. Naturally, the choice is yours. Do you take a drink and submit to all it entails for the rest of your existence, or do you opt to live an average life, with little meaning and no room for glory?”

“Of course, I’ll drink,” nodded Nyste. “If that is the dilemma, the solution is simple.”

Yerroth smiled.

“Yes, I once believed so, too.

“But, I do advise you to drink, as you are my son.”

He beckoned the rope at the edge of the stone ring and Nyste took it and drew up the water. He could not see into the dark when he looked down inside the quaggy pit, but he saw the slack rope swinging up from the limit of the light. The wooden pulley creaked rising, hoist by hoist, sloshing an unnatural liquid free into the deep.

Even before it surfaced, Nyste knew it wasn’t water, and when he finally pulled the bucket into his possession, Yerroth saw that the once held rapture, absorbed from staring at the statue, had depleted in totality from off the young man’s face. Nyste looked frightened and serious, a man who’d seen beyond death and back again. Damnation licked onto the face of a boy who shouldn’t yet have experienced such woe. He looked up to his father, his fingers gripping the bucket’s rim. ‘Had I looked like this to my father,’ thought Yerroth, ‘when I was in this place?’

“This is blood,” said Nyste. “This is blood.”

“Yes,” nodded Yerroth. “It is blood. Your blood and Sorcho’s. If you bleed, you’ll see it that it shares the same color. All other men bleed a lighter hue, less enriched.

“You will always be a descendant of Ernos, but you’ll never be Nyste as I named you, until you drink. The bond will not be signed unless the blood without you is returned within to you, again.”

Nyste looked down into the barrel. A mosquito landed in the thick soup, and then floated like a stray speck of black pepper, aimless.

“Don’t think about it,” said Yerroth. “Thinking will be what ruins you. If you act, only then will you accomplish anything real.”

Nyste brought the barrel to his lips. He looked past the barrel at the sun hovering in the east over the hills. The red liquid swirled, a life of its own, dominating the southern portion of his ultimate view.

“Go on.”

When the blood reached his lips, it was warm enough to have just bled out of a living body, but cold enough to have compromised with the air around them. The flavor was not the same as when he licked a wound, as in all of those times he’d been more concerned about his broken skin, the severed sensors, registering pain. His throat took down a hefty gulp, and rather than retching, he took down another. He opened his throat and tilted the barrel back, giving-in to the reality of his situation.

“That’s enough,” said Yerroth. “The deal’s been made, and you don’t need to prove yourself anymore. You have become united with Sorcho.”

But the boy continued, and he drank faster, so blood leaked out around the sides of his mouth. Knowing he was nearing the end, he tilted the bucket back as far as he could and finished off the stream. The first intake of air after proved to be the most sickening part of the experience, as it elevated the fleshy flavor of the drink to the nose and reminded him of the pool he’d be digesting over the day, applying to his own continuity.

Nyste tossed the bucket away, down into the well, and turned from his father, wiping the blood from his lips. Yerroth stood tall, his arms crossed over his chest.

“You didn’t stop when I told you to. That’s a good sign for the future of our family. I stopped, boy, when my father told me that I could. But, you have a spirit that I didn’t have. You cannot teach that to a person. The willpower to keep pressing on is gauged naturally, and to a point, cannot be enhanced from without, with training. Now, hold it down, and you won’t need to drink up anymore.”

Yerroth, turned and walked toward the temple. He stopped and stood strong, his arms propped on his sides, the sun blazing beams past him.

“I’m a proud father today.”

Choking and coughing, Nyste caught up with Yerroth.

“I couldn’t stop,” he admitted, hacking up a clot. “There was something in me, telling me to continue. I wanted to stop. I wanted to.”

His eyes were red, Yerroth noticed, as though the blood had carried in, past his throat, and washed out, layering the inward-facing skin.

“Come,” said Yerroth cautiously, “let’s go sit by the temple for a while. When you’ve recovered, you can go join the festivities down in the streets. Then, I’ll meet with the council when they arrive at noon.”

“No,” said Nyste, “I don’t want to join the carnival today. I would like to sit at the temple for a while.”

“That’s understandable,” said Yerroth, bowing. “You’re now a true Mericetchi, a true Striker. Sit a moment with your people. Sit a moment, and become reacquainted with yourself.

“The celebration throughout Perlora below, is all in honor of you now.”