Madness didn’t destroy her; atoning for it might.
Ra has ruined everything. Returning to life through “renaissance” was her first mistake. Magical excess was her second. Now she must face the consequences of her reckless conjuring. Her beloved Ahr is dead by her hand, and the comfort she’d found in gender-rebel Jak seems lost to her forever.
Ra takes solace in punishment—and in communion with her punisher, the mysterious and merciless MeerShiva. But Shiva has spun a skein of secrecy over centuries—secrets about Ra’s origins and the origins of the Meer themselves. And as the secrets begin to unravel, someone else’s magic is at work from the hidden realm. Someone with the ability to redraw the fabric of the world itself.
As the picture becomes clearer, Ra must face some harsh realities: not everything is about her, and punishment isn’t enough. She must stand before Jak and try to atone for what she’s done. But seeing Jak will reveal one more secret Ra never saw coming—and one that may mean her own undoing.
Product Warnings: Contains scenes of intense BDSM, non-binary genders, and a preponderance of kick-ass women.
Even spattered in dried blood and pieces of the dead man’s flesh, they cut a striking pair of figures on the dunes of the falend. Jet and dark poppy, their hair hung down their backs in the colors of atrocity. Light caressed them, knowing they were more than human, rippling iridescent over their tresses like quicksilver in the presence of the divine.
As in the youth of her former life, Ra was attired in the manner of a Meeric prince, the plain kaftan of black silk muting much of the violence that covered her.
MeerShiva was less subtle, the pearl-embroidered train of her sheer citrine gown, from the same ancient era, dragging behind her, caked in mud from the heath they’d left behind. They were two livid strokes of pigment on the canvas of sun-blanched sand.
Satisfied with the decimation of the remains they’d dumped in the marsh outside the small trading post beyond Mole Downs, they had simply walked away, and continued walking until they’d left the high country altogether. Coming down out of the mound-riddled moors and across the lowland heath, they followed the Filial River toward the east, past the falls that plunged beneath the bluff at the wasteland’s edge, and into the high desert north of the Anamnesis delta, until at last even Meeric sensibility demanded rest.
The palette of the sky behind the scattered stars held the deep lack of pigment that came with the hours after midnight, and they were in the center of nothing, a vast stretch of arid land that separated mound country from the Deltan lowlands. With a few murmured words, Shiva raised a single tower around them, round and made of stone, with windowless walls that stretched up over them into immeasurable heights. Meeric conjuring was often merely out of whim, influenced by the current state of mind and body. They lay on a floor of heather, an anomalous afterthought, with barely a pause between waking and sleep.
Jak lay at Geffn’s side, staring at the ceiling. They shared a bed for comfort, though nothing more. The question of their long estrangement had been settled once and for all in the formal dissolution of their bond after Ahr’s body had been consigned to the elements in the Bone Fire. During all that ceremony—the harvest rites marking the turn of the year, the final parting with Ahr, the unbinding rite in which Jak and Geffn had cut the red braided strings they’d worn around their wrists to symbolize their union and set each other free—Jak had been in a state of stasis. Unable to feel anything, unable to fully comprehend the loss of Ahr, despite the grand Deltan memorial.
In mound culture, funeral rites were less dramatic. Haethfalters didn’t believe in the necessity of the destruction of the body by fire to free the spirit for its next life. Hadn’t, at least, until Ra had come, having effected her own cremation from the grave in order to hasten her return, “renaissanced” as a fully formed adult in an instant on a cold winter night. But that was an exception to the rule. Ra’s renaissance was devilry and madness, and Jak should have recognized it from the start.
Haethfalters practiced a form of sky burial, building a platform for the deceased and laying the body out in the elements to be excarnated by carrion birds. Burying bodies below ground was impractical in a place where the ground was frozen half the year and where underground real estate was at a premium for their souterrain dwellings. When the bones were picked clean, they were taken and placed in the family’s burial cairn—a place that didn’t require such deep digging, and which they had to dig only once, during the warmer months.
They’d used the sky burial platform as Ahr’s crematory, and Jak had watched his elements spiral up into the warm autumn wind. Smoke and embers and ash. It hadn’t seemed real. It hadn’t seemed like Ahr’s body wrapped in fragrant oils and spices and covered in flower garlands. It hadn’t seemed like anyone’s body at all as the platform was consumed in bright flames against the dusk sky. It had all been too surreal.
But there’d been no denying the reality once the urn was placed in Jak’s hands. Within the unassuming clay vessel was all that was left of Jak’s dearest friend.
Jak had led that final ceremony, the procession to the family cairn, the slow march alone down the dank steps beneath the circle of stones, accompanied by Oldman Rem’s mournful highland fiddle from above, to place Ahr’s vessel in the narrow vault that normally held the bones of the dead. By custom, and not belief, Jak murmured prayers to the ancestors—Jak’s mother, Fyn, and Fyn’s parents, whom Jak had never known—and then tried to say good-bye to Ahr somehow. The finality made it impossible, and Jak dropped onto wobbly knees before the vault and wept.
Ahr was family to Jak, and no one had questioned his interment under the cairn. Family, after all, was a broad term in mound society, having little to do with blood. In the niche beside Ahr’s were the bones of Fyn, the last person Jak had said good-bye to here. And on Fyn’s other side lay the remains of Geffn’s brother, Pim, who’d died before Geffn was born. They were all connected to Jak in one way or another. But kneeling there among the sputter of tallow candles as the sobs receded into sighs, Jak had felt the wrongness of it. Ahr was a Deltan. His ashes didn’t belong below the highland moor.
Jak sighed, still staring up at the stone ceiling. There was still so much damage in Haethfalt from the rains. It was a terrible time to leave. But Jak couldn’t let this wait until spring.
“I have to take him home.” Jak spoke in the darkness beside Geffn. “I know I’m needed here to help rebuild, but Merit deserves to know. They were lovers. He should have the ashes.”
“You do what you need to.” Geffn squeezed Jak’s hand atop the blanket. “The moundhold will be here for you. Whatever you decide to do will be all right.”
But it wasn’t true. It would not be all right. Nothing could ever be all right with so much gone wrong.
About the Author:
Jane Kindred is the author of epic fantasy series The House of Arkhangel’sk, Demons of Elysium, and Looking Glass Gods. She spent her formative years ruining her eyes reading romance novels in the Tucson sun and watching Star Trek marathons in the dark. She now writes to the sound of San Francisco foghorns while two cats slowly but surely edge her off the side of the bed.
1 set of signed print copies of Books 1, 2, and 3 of Looking Glass Gods
1 caged pearl necklace