The Cedna (Tales of Blood & Light Book 2)

BOOK: The Cedna (Tales of Blood & Light Book 2)
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The Cedna
The Cedna
Emily June Street

F
or my mother

The Cedna

From each generation of Ganteans, an Ikniq girl child was called to serve a sacred duty: tunixajiq, the paying of the balance that kept magic alive.

Queenstown Harbor
Before the Fall

T
he
footsteps
on the dock stop. I can hear the visitors’ breathing from my vantage point on my ship’s deck.

Magic probes the air with a signature that reminds me of a young, curious boy I knew long ago in a different life. Onatos’s bastard boy.

Of course it’s Laith. He’s come for Jaasir, who I inadvertently kidnapped during a battle on the Parting Sea. Laith has powers enough to track his own blood-brother—or anyone else, for that matter.

“She knows we are here,” Laith says quietly to his companion, a dark, silent force at his side. “Is that you, Cedna? I can feel you there.”

“It is I,” I reply. “I suppose you want your brother?”

“May we come aboard, my lady?”

I sigh as I lower the rope ladder. What a fool I am. I want to see Laith’s face because it reminds me of Onatos. I want to be absolved for everything I have done. These burdens only grow heavier. Laith brings with him an opportunity for some small and final redemption. He also brings threat and danger. That shadow behind him.

“Do you need light?” I ask.

“We’ll manage,” Laith replies.

“You look so much like your father,” I whisper as Laith ascends to my deck by the light of his magestone.

“You would know the truth of that better than I. I have not seen him in so long I cannot recall his face.” Resolve stiffens his posture. Perhaps he has come to kill me after all. Does he, too, believe I killed Onatos Amar? If he knew the truth he would not forgive me.

“I will give you your brother,” I tell him.

“I would not have settled for anything else.”

“That—that is not all we require.” The shadowy woman who accompanies Laith pulls herself over my gunwale. “I am Gantean.” She says this with grim determination, her pale, narrow face like cut crystal: hard, unbreakable.

My breath freezes in my chest, and some long-ignored, severed ribbon of my heart flaps helplessly. I know her. I know her, this lovely creature, my Leila. My daughter. Like Laith, she is painfully similar to her father, all grace and finesse.

I face her, utterly numb. I lift my hand as though I might caress that soft cheek. As though I might be worthy.

Leila grips a Gantean ulio blade on her waist, shimmering black and deadly in the light from Laith’s magestone. Her other hand catches an anbuaq, a Gantean amulet that she wears on twine around her neck.

My heart caves in on itself, a shattered diamond. I know that anbuaq. Made of seal bone and a red Hinge spall, it is the one the Kaluq Elders used, years ago, to catch my blood when they made me the Cedna. I know what it means that Leila has it.

The Gantean Elders tasked her with killing me. They knew when they gave her that anbuaq that she was my blood-daughter. The Gantean coldness never ends. My daughter is here to kill me.

My legs cannot hold me any longer. I crumple to the deck like a broken doll.

My memory flies back, tracing my story through two decades, trying to find the terrible thread that brought us to this: a mother and a daughter, once bound by blood, now at such an impossible impasse.

If I have nothing else, I have my story, and perhaps it contains the absolution I seek. It is the only thing that will endure after I die, and so I must tell it. I begin my tale with my own mother, who also served as Cedna. I would not be what I have become if not for her choices. I begin over two decades ago, in those dark and final days before I became the Cedna. Before my own mother’s death.

A Dream

M
y
mother
, hair unbound and rippling like fire, danced before a tower of flame that pushed back the night. Ikniqs had gathered to listen to her share one story from the many that lived in the Cedna’s memory.

Gantean children had long been instructed by the Elders to tell sayantaq southerners that we had no stories. I once asked why we denied our tales. “To keep our secrets safe,” the Kaluq Elder had said, as if the telling of a simple story threatened our way of life.

The Ganteans were liars. They told these untruths at the command of the Elders, who knew about the magic of the mind. If the world believed our lies, then the lies became real. The Elders made great use of this truth.

How could we have no stories? Every life was a story, and every Cedna knew them all, going back to the beginning, to the making of the Hinge, when the Ganteans became Iksraqtaq, the Raw People, the protectors of the world’s hidden powers. We had the stories of our lives, true stories. We had songs and prayers. We had fanciful tales; we had myths grown bigger and better than hunger and cold, snow and ice. We had stories that taught us how to live in our harsh world.

Mother stood before us as she wove her tale. I knew what she would say already, in my bones, as I knew all that she held in her mind, passed to me in a devastating osmosis whenever she touched me. We were connected via an ethereal bloodcord that the Elders should have cut long ago. My mother had made me her successor not long after my birth, and already I absorbed the Cedna’s knowledge.

My mother resumed the tale where she had left it at the end of our last night blaze. “Tiriq finished sculpting his forms into the star-rock his mother had borne, and he was pleased. He stretched his arms overhead. ‘My work is done,’ he told Tianiq. ‘And there are other worlds to shape.’ Taking a running start, he leapt off the edge of the world into the black void, looking for the other raw children that their mother, Skeleton Woman, had left for him to discover.”

My mother gazed at her inebriated audience, her deep, dark eyes sparkling with the reflected orange of the flames. “Tianiq cried when Tiriq disappeared over the world’s edge. Oceans and oceans, she cried, but her Tiriq never came back to her. He’d left her all alone. One day, she looked up from her weeping, for she felt the heat of something new. A star blazed in the western sky where emptiness had lived before. ‘Tiriq! My brother!’ Tianiq cried, recognizing her sibling by the silvery hue of his bloodlight. ‘Why didn’t you bring me into that vast night sky with you?’ Still crying, Tianiq gathered her courage and threw herself off the world’s edge, too.”

Mother smoothed her dark auburn braids, waiting until a child in the audience squirmed and asked, “Did she find her brother? Did Tianiq find Tiriq?”

My mother pointed at a silver dot above the horizon. “Look. Can you see? There’s Tiriq still shining. Now look there.” She spun a half circle. “There’s his sister, Tianiq.” She indicated a golden star almost exactly opposite the silver one.

We all studied the sky obediently.

Mother said, “Tiriq and Tianiq still live in the night. They chase each other around the skies, winter to summer, but they never meet. When Tiriq shines in the west, Tianiq shines in the east. When Tiriq runs east, Tianiq has already fled west, seeking where she last saw her brother. So they wheel round and round the dark skies, locked into Sukaibiruq, the slow dance of creation. Do not forget Tiriq and Tianiq. They will survive when all other magics fail.”

BOOK: The Cedna (Tales of Blood & Light Book 2)
11.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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