Cloaks slid off with a synchronicity of movement that bespoke a ritual oft practiced. Skyclad, bowls of flame at their feet, curvy and slim, tall and short, light and dark, the Daughters raise their hands to the sky.
The First tips her head, parting lips and opening her throat to sing out a high, clear note, held longer than should humanly be possible. The others follow suit to the last, a girl, whose voice creaks out like a rusty saw until she gathers her courage around her like the cloak she has just shed and forces the note to smoothness.
The offering bowls are gathered and carried with ceremony, placed around the feet of the girl; those who would become her sisters step back. She stifles a tide of hysteria, and not just a little terror, at the power she feels growing with each careful and studied placement. She sways on her feet as the song changes, tone and tempo evolving, pulsing, layering questing tendrils, crackling live wires of noise borne only upon their own strength.
In the midst of this growing maelstrom, only the First remains static. Her wide eyes drink in the moonlight and reflect it back from pools of black onyx, gaze fixed on the one this night is dedicated to, the last Daughter. Without lowering her lancet stare, she bends and places her hands, one each, on the two blades that lay in the grass at her feet. One offers acceptance and does not allow violence, but the other offers itself only in the cause of sacrifice. Of their own accord her limbs begin to move as the song worms into muscle to straighten her, crawls in her ears to bring the chosen knife behind her, and electrifies her skin to clasp her hands behind her and begin the walk of the sacred path to the Initiate.
From the blackness comes a drum, thumping, through the soles of her feet, echoing her heart’s steady beat. Crossing the center point of the circle, quiet descends like a blanket gently laid over a sleeping child and, swirling their arms in sinuous, circular motions, her Daughters fall in behind her, a sphere of flesh that dances yet, to the memory of music.
She stops inches from the girls face, brings up the blade she holds so that it hovers at the exact point between the Initiates eyes. The distinctive, scythe-like shape comes into focus, and the handle to tremble in time with the girls knees.
“Wicked,” whispers the First. “This blade names you. You have been found wanting of the purity that this family requires.” An inadvertent gasp escapes from her Daughters. She could not warn them that she had dreamed this outcome, and for that she was truly sorry. They had come with joy in their hearts, to welcome a sister, with love. Now, as their Mother demanded, they were required to offer her instead, with condemnation. Judgment is law, no appeals to be made.
Her arms were grasped, pulled behind her back, pushing her chest forward. They gather her hair in their hands and hold her, a wall of implacable limbs that does not seek to hurt but offers no succor.
The blade’s point pierces just below the collarbone, and as the First begins to drag it downwards, her Daughters chant. “Wicked. Wicked. Wicked.”
Blood wells, expertly carving a half moon around the areola, completing the symbol of the bolline, upside-down, as befits a Betrayer. The First cut as shallowly as she dared, and the blood that seeped out was thin. She does not desire to harm. The Daughters release the Initiate and the girl is held rooted in place by a power not of herself.
The fires at her feet began to dim, and as they go out, one after another, the flames begin to simmer behind her eyes. A whimper escapes her lips, and with it, fire dances. She is engulfed, from the inside out, tongues of fire darting from her nostrils, licking out from her ears, bursting her eyes from her skull with a sickening, melting pop.
And then she was no more. All that remains is a single, blackened blade of grass that is plucked to be tucked away.
The First turns, gathers them into a sphere of comforting arms. No tears, they are not permitted for one that has been denied, and so they must hide their desire to shed them.
“Remember, Daughters. It does not pay, to be wicked.”
Editing this story down to 750 words was truly a feat for me, slicing and dicing away, much like the First. This is my submission for Challenge #5 over at Grammar Ghoul Press – our word prompt was wicked, which I decided to make a lot of use of, and our visual prompt this week was the gloriously bizarre video for Spectrum, by Florence + the Machine. As her voice is one of my favorites to listen to when I’m writing, that added an element of fun for me.
Check out the Grammar Ghouls here: (DO IT): http://www.grammarghoulpress.com/gg-writing-challenge-5-open/