Far Eastern Siberia, 1827
CALEB TAMERSK WAS GOING to die. He had long accepted that fact. He’d even got quite comfortable with the notion, living precariously close to it as he did. Throughout his life he had taunted death, sent countless men into its open arms knowing that when it came for him, he would go out strong and fighting. He never thought when the moment arrived that it would be like this. This was beyond his worst imaginings and he wondered whether he was still asleep in his cell and this was some sort of macabre dream. The shackles cut deep into his torn wrists, the pain shooting up his arms. This was no dream. He was no longer within the walls of Castle Valla prison, he was outside them and that was the worst place he could be.
He’d been dragged out into the snow, forced to his knees as the guards chained him to a metal ring set in the ice. As the last of the daylight faded from the sky, they hurried back inside. He could just see the entrance behind him, the portcullis shrieking as it was lowered to the ground, the castle and all inside secure. He had never panicked in his life but it grew inside him – the uncertainty of what was to come. His teeth chattered against the cold and he cursed that the snow was deep enough to cover his knees but not enough to hide in, away from what was coming.
He pulled again on his chains in desperation, trying to shift the ring itself. It was unlike any metal he had ever seen – heavy as iron, but shiny like a mirror, his own reflection a distorted swirl as he tried to free himself. But there was no escape. His only hope was to freeze to death before it came, but the guards had seen to that too – the overcoat heavy on his shoulders. The sacrifice was no good if the offering was already dead. He must be alive.
As darkness fell, a loud crack echoed in the mountains beyond, and an avalanche descended as if to escape the one who thundered through. A blast of air flung his coat open and he braced himself as the icy air found the skin beneath his prison uniform.
‘Please,’ he shouted. ‘Help me.’
He looked back to the castle. A lone figure stood on the battlements – the governor and orchestrator of his fate, a man known as Rako. He would not help him. He had signed his death warrant with Rako some time ago. Since his arrival last winter, he had aided four prisoners with suicide for no other reason than proof that he could – that he could push and prod and poke until his subject saw no other way. He even gave them the tools – a wooden spoon whittled to a sharp point hidden in their gruel or spare clothing in which to make a noose. Through thick walls and strong iron, he manipulated the weak-minded, his whispers echoing along the dark corridors and chambers at night. So delighted was he with his success, he was unaware of his growing infamy among the other prisoners, who for their own safety had reported him to Rako. Cowards. He would gladly have killed them all.
An image of his mother came to mind. He had not thought of her in decades for she was long dead but there she was smiling at him and he remembered how her lip curled so. Everything he had learned about manipulation came from her until the pupil saw the manipulation first-hand and would have a mistress no longer. He’d wiped that smile away when he’d killed her and here she was now forcing her way into his mind as he was about to die.
Do you wait for me, Lenka?
She had never permitted him to call her Mama, even as a child, and perhaps that’s why it was easier for him to think of her as a stranger with a strange love he had no longer needed. She smiled again in his mind, the sweet turning sour this time.
He’s coming for you.
You’re going to bleed.
The ground began to tremble, as if her presence had signalled the gates of hell to open and they shook the earth as they did so.
He blessed himself, trying to remember a prayer from long ago, but the words came only with practice and he did not know them well enough. If a creature such as this existed in the world then any God would have long forsaken it. The snow around him began to shift as it unleashed the smell of hidden decay, the kind that lives underground as it rots and becomes one with the soil. While acquainted with the scent of death, this was new to him, a deeper, more sinister offering. Perhaps it was the climb of the dead he had cajoled, come to claim their revenge. He looked across the ice. Something was coming, at great speed – a swirl of shadows, splitting and merging, until one long dark shadow came to rest upon him. He cowered in fear, squeezing his eyes shut. Something cold and wet touched his cheek and he jumped. Was that a tongue? But when he opened his eyes, all he could see were the folds of a giant cloak as it enveloped him, tearing his chains with ease.
‘Please, I beg you.’
A husky laugh filled the fabric around him and in his mind that laugh became his mother’s, rising in pitch as the laughter grew more hysterical and he was taken into the skies.
Our Destiny Is Blood is now available on Amazon in paperback and eBook here.