Chapter 1 - Pearl
Streaks of red trail down from her cheek.
A marriage between blade and flesh with blood as its child sacrifice.
The knife leaves the girl’s face. A detailed cut—an image—has been carved into her skin. The man holding the knife smiles as he admires his handiwork. His face is a consortium of metal and flesh, either the flesh holding the metal bolts together or the metal holding the flesh.
“Step back, Huguer, and let me see how the girl looks.”
The servant with the amalgamated face takes a few steps to the side of the girl and bows to his King.
The Obsidian King has a black handkerchief covering his face from the nose down. His eyes are black and hawk-like, glinting in the dingy cavern. The hunger in them is like the stomach pains from starvation—sporadic, unpredictable.
The King walks toward the kneeling girl with the newly etched mark—a jeweled staff with two snakes coiling around it.
He stops in front of her. “What a beautiful girl. A face deserving of such a beautiful sign.”
The girl spits at his feet. He orders two men to whip her.
She doesn’t cry out.
After the ordeal is over, she looks, menacingly, straight into his eyes and hisses, “You’re a coward.”
He laughs. “But I win.” He pauses and smirks. “That’s what matters.”
He’s right. The girl, Rosie, is too honorable. Her morals are too high, so she loses to someone without ethics. She chose to run rather than kill, and that’s probably why we’re both in this situation. She doesn’t understand that you can’t win if you don’t play by the same dirty rules.
Kneeling beside her with my hands bound tight with rope, I scan the stone walls of the alcove we’re trapped in. As if I’m cheating on a test in school, I move my pupils from one side to the other, taking in as much of the cavern as possible.
The Obsidian King’s men were too haste in bringing us in. Usually, they would take a few detours, a few extra circles here, a few useless turns forward and back. So we wouldn’t remember the path in, and we wouldn’t find the path out. They’re in a rush.
Rosie and I were blindfolded. After eight simple swerves and a few sudden stops and murmurs, we arrived here. The lack of coordination means the King’s men are unfamiliar with this territory. So we’re not at the usual headquarters.
That means the guards I need to worry about are all here—where I can see them.
Huguer stands four feet away from Rosie with his head bowed. He must be the servant. The other two men stand about 15 feet behind the Obsidian King, stone-faced and still.
Rosie and I are still alive, which means only one thing: they don’t want our lives. They want information. It’s a game of intimidation.
The King suddenly swerves from Rosie to me, squats down, and pulls my chin up with his hand. “You haven’t said a word, my dear.” He leans in to me close enough that I smell his rotting breath. “It makes you quite desirable.”
He stands up and smiles. “The Gneiss Clan always recruits the most attractive ones. I wonder if it’s just for the Gneiss Lord’s pleasure.” Rosie spits at his feet. The Obsidian King turns to her, evidently infuriated.
Before he commands for the whips again, I smile coyly. “I’ve only heard rumors, my King, but I never thought you’d be so attractive.”
The King turns to look at me and, without any hesitation, proclaims, “Now, this one has such a sweet mouth. But I’m afraid I have to tell you that I don’t succumb to flattery.”
But you are already. Narcissism is spreading all over his face, or maybe it’s greed. He wants what isn’t his. He’s a man who likes a challenge. So I give him one. “No, my King,” I coo, “I respect humble men. And you are one of them.” I lick my lips in a coquettish, sensual way.
He comes closer. He bends down again, our face inches apart. He whispers, “If you want to work for me tonight, I’ll let you and your friend live another day.”
I lean in to the King’s ear, as if to whisper, and then shove the dagger I had pulled from his belt right into his stomach. You let your mind wander. Careless fool.
Despite having both hands tied, I had managed to twist my body and discreetly pull the dagger from his belt the first time he came to me. Rosie noticed I got hold of the dagger, so she spat again as a means of distraction. By that time, I’d already cut through the ropes tying my hands and feet.
The King slumps into the dagger, gasping for air, his red hot blood trickling down my hand.Success. I quickly pull the dagger out. Before the two men and Huguer realize what had happened, I’ve already cut Rosie’s ropes and slit the two guards at the front.
Rosie and I were flocking the alcove.