In an age of death and desperation, sometimes hope must be stolen. Certamen’s god is dead. His people, the Ors, are broken and enslaved. He finds consolation in the knowledge that they are safe... But not for much longer. Their masters, facing decimation by disease, are growing desperate. Desperate enough to kill.
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A Word From The Author
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About Noel Coughlan
THE PARTING GIFT
by Noel Coughlan
THE PARTING GIFT
Copyright © 2015 Noel Coughlan
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover by Paula Becattini
Edited by Finish The Story (http://www.finish-the-story.com/Editing.htm)
Proofreading by Proofed to Perfection (http://www.proofedtoperfection.com/)
Published by Photocosmological Press (http://photocosm.org/)
Epub Edition: ISBN:978-1-910206-07-2
For Michael Grant.
Certamen stared at the wooden floor as his mistress, the Sable warrior DarkGlad, scourged the Purpure, but the hands pressed to his ears could not block out the roars the creature retched forth as the whip stripped its flesh. The monster had brought this on itself. This was not the first time that, in the depths of night, it had started shrieking for no reason and roused either DarkGlad or her husband.
Certamen shuddered at the sound of every stroke. No matter how he might be favored, he was not immune to the whip if he upset his owners.
The Purpure’s desperate screeches dulled to groans and then simpers, but the whipping continued. Was DarkGlad going to beat the creature to death? An involuntary scream gurgled in Certamen’s throat. Suddenly, the lashes ceased.
“Certamen,” DarkGlad said, panting.
Head still bowed, his eyes strained upward to glimpse the Sable’s face. The symptoms of her exertion were obvious—the sweat drenching her round, vermilion face and the dark blotches on her cheeks. A scowl hooded her black eyes.
She handed Certamen the whip. The greasy warmth of the Purpure’s blood smeared his pale yellow fingers as he gathered the cords.
DarkGlad parted her mess of black hair, revealing the black geometric pattern on her forehead that represented the face of her race’s creator, the Dark Light, Solanum.
“Clean it before you retire for what little is left of the night,” she said as she flexed her hand. She turned to the Purpure. “And as for you,” she growled as she kicked it in the ribs, “if you ever again disturb the Dark Light’s time with your screeching, I really will give you something to cry about.”
The other slaves hid in the gloom beyond the candle. Most pretended to sleep as if it were possible to be so oblivious to the creature’s tortured cries. Certamen’s heart contracted as a baby’s sudden cry drew desperate shushes from its mother.
DarkGlad answered his anxious glance with a sneer. “An infant’s wails won’t carry to my hall. Unlike this brute’s howls.” The Purpure shuddered as her boot struck its side yet again.
After she departed, the slave house exhaled a collective breath. The other slaves stretched their limbs and shimmied about their straw mattresses. They were all Mixies—Argents or Azures stripped of their patrons’ colors. Their clumsy features provided no clue as to which race each individual belonged. Even their skin colors, a meaningless spectrum of browns and pinkish whites, could not be relied upon to differentiate them. Perhaps they themselves no longer knew. They certainly did not care.
Certamen was the only Or on the farm. His flaxen skin and extra thumb on each hand set him apart.
Labored breaths drew his attention to the Purpure. The creature no longer inspired dread as it had during the Light War. Its limbs were manacled to the floor, so it was only free to turn from side to side. It could not even wipe away the frothy drool smeared across its face. Its gray, hairy back was raw, crisscrossed with welts. Its deadly horn was long gone, sheared off by its captors. Its large, shining eyes drizzled tears. It was so pathetic it was hard to believe it belonged to the same species that had massacred most of Certamen’s race.
Having cleaned the whip, Certamen stepped outside the slave house. The bloody sickle of the Red Light, Gules, hung in the sky, tingeing the night an eerie scarlet. As always, its presence was a taunting reminder of past suffering, like a scar that would not properly heal. Its barren deserts had been where the rival divine Lights fought for supremacy. There, the Ors had failed their god. Defeated and enslaved, they had lost everything, even their purpose.
The journey from Gules to Elysion had been like waking from one dream and falling into another. Fragments of memories remained—the glass tower extending like a lithe arm out of the desert into the ruddy sky, the steaming waters of the Rainbow Sea, the desolate mountains beyond it, the first marvelous green shoots peeping up through the scorched earth, and then the first glimpse of Elysion, a lush salad of forests and grasslands. Yet most of the journey was an elusive phantasm that flickered in the periphery of Certamen’s consciousness.
He didn’t bother to secure the door and lock the slaves inside. The Sables’ equine brethren, the jet-black Cavals, were a greater deterrent to escape than any bolt. The herd grazing nearby consisted of four mares, a foal, and a stallion with a broken horn. The adults watched Certamen as he passed them. He answered their intimidating stares with a deferent smile.
Even if a slave escaped the farm, where could he go? The world of Elysion belonged to the Sables. It was their prize for winning the Light War. Though Elysion was the embodiment of the Green Light, and though other Lights contributed to its beauty, the Dark Light was its undisputed ruler. His presence saturated Elysion. Scratch the surface, and he was waiting, lurking in every crack and crevice. From dusk to dawn, the world was wrapped in his shadow. He was inescapable.
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