Hello, everyone! Release day for Lamentation is tomorrow, so to celebrate I did a quick video of myself reading the first scene from the prologue. Hope you enjoy it! (Particularly the weirdo glasses I’ve had to wear to stop my eyeballs from itching from screen fatigue). The full text is also included below.
Lamentation of the Marked
Vendra sensed light and motion beyond the veil of her eyelids. Her unconscious mind stirred. Signals zipped between synapses like messages along a telegraph line. It was a pull as inescapable as gravity, but still she resisted. She clung to the respite of sleep, filled with the vague yet certain sense that rousing would be painful; that wakefulness would be loud, confusing, fuzzy-tongued.
Her cheek was pressed into the grain of a wooden board, and a nailhead poked at the flesh below her left eye. From nearby, there came a thunderous outcry. Despite her efforts to remain asleep, the din intensified in her ears, and the peace of slumber slipped through her mental fingers.
Why is it so loud? she thought.
Where am I? she thought.
Quade? she thought.
The roar shifted, individual voices resolving into a unified chant.
“Dispatch her,” said a cold-voiced man.
Vendra’s eyes flickered open. Her temples throbbed, and she tried to swallow, but her mouth was coated in viscous saliva—common side effects. She hefted her head up from the planking and gazed out over a massive crowd. Her brow puckered in confusion.
“YOUR DEATH WILL BE AS TRIVIAL AS A BEETLE BENEATH A BOOT,” the assembly boomed.
The central square of Accord teemed; its usual bare cobble-stoned expanse was instead packed with bodies. Why? She had only imperfect, half-memories. A hazy sense of purpose lost.
Vendra’s head swiveled, sweeping leftwards. Beneath nine empty gallows, a cluster of Elevated and civilians brawled. She blinked at the knot of violence—the flying limbs and tumbling bodies—uncertain of its origin. Nine nooses swayed in the breeze.
From amidst the tumult, the shape of Quade Asher emerged, crossing the stage with black strides. Vendra’s heart thudded in her breast at the sight of him. His form, so sure and straight, always made something deep within her ache. His dark beauty was her greatest addiction.
Her mouth opened to call his name—look at me, see me. He turned, and when she saw him the sound died in her throat.
It was his, and yet it was not. The shapes and colors were true, but stripped of their allure. His aspect was, all at once, repulsive to her. Foul. His eyes were the blackest, coldest holes she had ever beheld. The sight of them sent a shiver through her spirit, like a web of minute cracks racing across a pane of glass.
She wanted to avert her gaze, to deny the evidence before her, but she couldn’t manage so much as a blink. She had loved this man for all her adult life—had lived for him, killed for him—and yet, somehow, she had never seen him.
A streak of motion came from above, and an arrow bloomed in Quade’s shoulder. He fell to his knees, a snarl escaping his thin lips. And then their former captive, Peer Gelson, charged into view. A sword flashed in his hand.
Vendra’s stomach clenched, and she was uncertain if she more feared or desired Quade’s death. It mattered little. Before the killing stroke could land, her lover vanished with a hollow pop.
She slumped onto her bottom and hugged her legs close to her chest. Lucid for the first time in nearly two decades, countless memories flitted through her mind’s eye. Wounds only now perceived, sins only now recognized. And it was too much, all too much.
Her shoulder blades hit the planking, followed by the back of her skull. Her mind went blank. She stared up at the sky and watched the clouds drift from east to west. The day’s light dimmed, to the tune of her uneven breath. Flurries swirled like ash on a breeze—ash, fire.
Her nose and cheeks grew icy. The clamor of the crowd dwindled until, at length, no sound remained but the gusting of the wind.
“You can’t be staying here,” a male voice said, shattering her trance.
The form of Peer Gelson loomed above her, his breath exploding like steam from his mouth. She had the strong impression she should feel remorse in his presence—whiff of gunpowder, a pained bellow.
“Are you…?” he trailed off and cleared his throat. “It’s cold and gettin’ colder. People’ve been gathering up at the palace.”
He extended a hand to help her up, then seemed to think better of it. He jammed his fist into his coat pocket and rocked on his boots. “Come or not. I won’t be carryin’ you.”
She lacked both the will and the desire to rise. If she stood, she would still have to be herself. She would still have to live within her own mind. This numbness could not last, and it was the only thing keeping her intact. If she moved, she would surely disintegrate.
I’m in shock, she thought.
My pulse is rapid, she thought.
I want to die, she thought.
“After I murdered your friend,” Vendra said, locking eyes with Peer, “you swore you would kill me. You swore.”
He transferred his weight from one foot to the other. “And?”
Something large and empty was opening inside her—a crater in the fabric of her being. “Do it,” she whispered. “Kill me.”
He squatted beside her, resting his forearms on his thighs. “No.”
“He was a good man, was he not? Your friend?”
“And I shot him.”
“You did,” he said. She watched the lump in his throat bob. Snowflakes peppered his sandy hair. “Live with it. I’ll not be doing you any favors.”
He stood and strode away, leaving her colder than she had ever felt in all her life. She scrambled to her knees, dizziness causing her vision to swim. “Wait!”
He paused and half-turned, but didn’t meet her pleading gaze. “You can’t be stayin’ out here. It’s freezin’.” And with that he departed, his shadow merging into the night.
Vendra trembled against the wind. She glanced around the square, surprised to discover that she wasn’t alone. There were young people—Quade’s Elevated—standing, sitting, and kneeling in various states of shock. They looked like frosted sculptures, misery whittled into form.
She experienced a brief surge of guilt upon seeing them. But that feeling was soon snuffed out, like every other sensation. She stared down at a nail that stuck unevenly from the stage, stared until it was no longer visible beneath a layer of fresh snow.
She wondered how long it would take to die if she just sat there, exposed. Perversely, she thought of Quade. She longed to feel him beside her, to be wrapped in the warmth and comfort of his presence—flick of a blade, blood.
A hand came to rest on her shoulder, and she jolted. She whirled, expecting to see him, Quade—his visage appearing as it did in her memory. Beautiful. But these were not Quade’s eyes studying her with such concern.
“Vendra, can you hear me?”
She blinked, taking in a wrinkled brow, a bristling white mustache.
Dedrre dropped to the snow and pulled her close. She pressed her face into the wool of his overcoat and breathed in the familiar smell of him.
“You’re frozen to the core; thank the Spirits he told me…” he said, rubbing hands up and down her arms.
Before she knew it, she was weeping. Her chest heaved and her throat ached and she shuddered under the power of her shame and grief. Hot tears burned against her numb cheeks.
“Shh,” her grandfather soothed. “It’s over now. I’m here now. Shh.”
She burrowed into his warmth. “It’s not over,” she said, voice muffled. “Not yet.”
Not ever. Not for me.Mikesh Kaos