Dem had never seen her own blood, though she had spilled plenty. The blood of many a man had spattered across walls, soaked into sand, welled discretely from a nicked artery, by her hand. Her god had not even thought to give her the monthly bleeding she knew the other girls had, and maybe, she thought, she had no blood at all.

In all her sixteen years she had never been cut, scraped, punctured. She’d been beaten, and severely at that, and strangled once, though that had been brief and under entirely different circumstances.

And so when her mark’s hand shot out of nowhere and his wicked sharp knife grazed her ribs, she was the tiniest bit disappointed when her hand came away smeared not with black sludge or golden ichor, but the same syrupy smelly red stuff everyone else was made of.

She switched her blade to her right hand and parried another strike as it made its flashing way toward her throat. Her heart pounded in her chest and pain – it was delicious – lanced up her side. She realized with a jolt she didn’t want to kill him. Her god had commanded it but if she had been cut, well, maybe it wasn’t watching too closely.

He looked like nothing special. They regarded each other, crouched tentatively into their respective stances – she in snake, as usual, and he in crab. He was young, clean-looking. He looked like hundreds of other men she’d killed. Had it been a fluke? Had she simply been too slow?

A flicker of panic bloomed in her chest: the longer she waited, the faster the resin she’d chewed up earlier would wear off, the more likely she was to lose focus, to make a mistake. But a part of her ached to draw this moment out. She breathed in deeply, a dark jet of pain blossoming as her skin stretched, and she grinned, nearly giggling aloud.

This seemed to frighten him, and he began to pray. The low susurration of it barely louder than his panting breath. No, she thought, stop! Her god was a petty one, and jealous; it wouldn’t like that. She willed herself into action, darting forward. There was a thrilling, desperate clash.

Ah, she thought, and felt a swelling wave of disappointment. She felt her knife hit flesh and slide, smoothly, gentle as a breath, between two of his ribs. A little wet red bubbled out of his mouth. It was a fluke after all.


E H Young

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