I’m assaulted by the incessant pounding in my head. Even the pores of my face are throbbing out a rhythm as I try to open my eyes. The last thing I remember is shielding Elodie from someone. There were men and horses. The image of a woman in a red cloak surfaces. She did something so I couldn’t Fire Weave.
I snap open my eyes, the torchlight making my pupils dilate rapidly. That didn’t help my headache. I close my eyes and open them slower this time. Letting my eyes get used to the light. The first thing I notice is that I’m held secure by a coil of rope. Something more solid and heavier binds my hands behind the large post that’s keeping me upright. I look down to see a white robe covering me from neck to toe. And I miss the cool brush of my golden hair. I shake my head only to realize that it’s gone.
I wager a glance to my right. A woman with a dark blindfold stands with her hands at her side. She wears a long carmine robe with the hood down. Beyond her is a girl in much the same situation as I am. Her face is bloodied and bruised; one of her eyes is swollen shut. Firelight flickers across her bald head. She’s not my sister. I look left to find another woman in a blood-red robe and another bald girl, wrapped in white, with her hands bound behind her. Not quite across from me is another bald girl. Neither of them are Elodie. I begin to panic, pulling at my wrist cuffs and ignoring the sharp bite they make into my flesh.
Sweeping the full field of my vision, I finally locate Elodie. She too is bald and wearing a white robe. Between us is a raised onyx dais. It looks to be made of granite or marble, but blacker than the night above us. It’s a strange shape with the points being extended in white chalk to each of us girls. Like a star. Like a binding spell. In the dirt in front of me, between the white lines, is a smoking thurible. Behind my back I try to Fire Weave the metal that restrains me. Instead of breaking down the whole into its elements, I get a searing headache.
I scream across the dais, “Elodie, are you okay?”
She nods in response, tears sparkling on her cheeks in the torchlight. She mouths, “I love you,” before being slapped hard across the face by one of the blindfolded women.
A sharp gasp issues from the girl to my right. I wince and squeeze my eyes shut, willing this nightmare to end and let me wake up. The pain isn’t a dream though, and I slowly open my eyes. Plans are forming in my head. Each one being discarded as impossible before I move on to the next one. As if on cue, the woman from earlier appears in the doorway of the tower behind Elodie. She’s wearing her carmine robe with the hood up, but I know it’s her. Can see it in the way she glides to the dais in the middle. The tilt of her chin under the hood. The long red leather gloves.
She’s saying something in a language I’ve never heard before. The women on either side of me take up the chant; the night begins to pulse with power just out of reach. I stare down, unwilling to be distracted from planning my escape. It’s a small movement, but I watch as the holes in the thurible start to close. They’re being melted or manipulated. The power isn’t coming from me. Another Fire Weaver must be near, or it’s the chanting of the women around me. But that doesn’t make any sense. None of this does.
The blindfolded women take two steps toward the dais, their hands reaching for the stars above. I glance over to the girl on my left. She’s crying so hard I doubt she’s the one helping me. When I look to the right at the girl with the purple-smudge face, I know I’ve found an ally. Her brow is knit, and the power wafts off her like perfume. She can’t be a Fire Weaver if the thurible’s smoke doesn’t affect her. Which leaves a Metal Weaver. Not as rare as Elodie or me but rare enough. Someone has been scouring the country to collect the three of us. I turn to the sobbing girl and figure she must be a Weaver too, as must be the girl between Elodie and the crier.
Five Weavers. One dais. Something stirs in my memory, not quite words or images, just a feeling that I’ve heard this in a story before. Maybe when we were small and our powers hadn’t shown yet. Back when Mama would take Elodie and I into her lap and sing us stories about the rituals of her people. Unable to remember more, I concentrate on building the power behind my eyes. It pushes away the throbbing in my head and makes my limbs tingle. A small piece of wood ash floats toward me. Too far to Weave it.
Rope is made of earth, water, and … the sun. I feel the rope getting less tight as I separate out each element. I hold onto the fire, trying to burn the cuffs around my hands. The metal singes my skin. The blindfolded women and the woman on the dais continue to chant and carry on. The coil of rope falls off my body and the shock of blood rushing into my feet makes me almost light-headed.
The wind whips around us. I look across the dais to Elodie. She’s chewing on her lip, trying to Weave the ropes that bind her, which means she’s not controlling the wind. And that’s when a giant harpy lands in front of me, cutting off my view of Elodie. The smell of rotting meat and guano fills my nose. The Harpy has enormous black wings, a woman’s face with a serrated beak, hanging breasts, and long claws that end in razor-sharp talons. I can’t help it when I scream.
More rhythmic flapping and smoky air whips past my face. In the peripheral of my vision I can see that two more harpies have landed in front of the girls to my right and left. Three harpies, but probably more like five. One for each of the Weavers. The harpy in front of me wastes no time and makes a move to strike out my eye. I turn just in time and feel her beak slice cleanly through my cheek. Hot blood spills down my face and splatters the white robe. The harpy shrieks and hops back.
I use her fear as an opportunity to slip my hands over the pole behind me. I’m awkward and dangling, watching as the harpy on my left tears out both girl’s eyes. The girl screams. I cringe. I can’t look away and witness the harpy twisting a long talon into the girl’s chest. A spray of blood and a squishing tear. The harpy holds the girl’s heart in her claws and eats it, spilling little of the blood left in the chambers. This all happens in less than a minute.
There’s no time to mourn the dead girl. I call upon the power inside me and bring a ball of fire to float between the harpy that wants my heart and me. Again, she backs away, knocking over the thurible and falling down hard on her wing. I push the ball of flame down on her splayed form and make a break for the girl to my right before the smell of burning flesh can hit my nostrils.
The blindfolded women are in a panic now. One of the harpies is down, dead I hope. Another is being choked by a long piece of rope. The bald girl from my right has also escaped her bonds. She’s holding onto the rope with white-knuckled fury. Even in the torchlight I see the blood rage in her eyes. The harpy shudders and then is still. The girl races over to me, hands bloodied and covered in feathers dark as night.
“Are you hurt?” she asks.
“I’m not,” I answer. I look over my shoulder. “The girl over there is dead though. That harpy tore out her eyes and ate her heart.”
The girl nods with a grimace forming on her lips. “Her name was Lemongrass. She was an Earth Weaver. I knew she didn’t have it in her to fight or escape. I’m sorry they killed her though.”
My sister’s screams rip through the night before I have a chance to add anything to this grim conversation. The other girl looks at me, wide-eyed but ready, and we race over to Elodie. Her harpy has plucked one of her eyes from its socket. A long tear streak of blood mares her ashen face. I gather power and will the fire to strike out at the harpy before she can take Elodie’s other eye. The girl at my side is doing something too. I don’t know what until I hear the heavy thump of manacles against the ground.
Elodie wiggles out of her ropes. She raises her hands and a heavy wind flings the harpy onto the dais, knocking over the woman there. Immediately, one of the blindfolded women slams into me, knocking us both to the ground. I struggle to push her off me. She waves her arms in the air. I tear the blindfold off her head and find myself face-to-face with an eyeless opponent. A small twinge of regret twists in my belly before I pull back my fist and hit her as hard as I can across the jaw.
The woman on the ground tries to scream orders, but the remaining two harpies surround her. With a click of claws and beaks, the woman is eyeless and then she’s heartless. I gather the last torchlight into a growing ball of fire. Elodie walks to stand beside me. She slips her hand into mine. With a little lucky wind the fireball explodes across the two harpies. As the fire burns them to ash, Elodie’s wind keeps them pinned down to the ground.
When the deed is done, the other girl speaks again. “Harper’s dead. She was a Water Weaver. Kidnapped and imprisoned here for a little longer than me. Three of the Sightless are dead. At least all five harpies have been destroyed. And Professor Rolm.”
At the sound of the name, the girl spits. Elodie does too. I’m too shaken, the adrenaline finally leaving my system, to muster enough saliva to spit. I reach out my free hand.
The other girl smiles, her swollen eye makes it look more sinister. “I’m Porter.” She looks over to Elodie then. “I can’t grow your eye back, but I can clean and heal the wound.”
Elodie stands still while Porter places a palm on either of her cheeks. The spark of power cuts through the air, and I watch the skin around Elodie’s eye socket knit neatly together. A faint star-shaped scar remains. She almost looks whole again.
“What about your own wounds?” Elodie asks.
Porter steps back, looking exhausted from Metal Weaving. If I hadn’t seen it happen in front of me, I wouldn’t believe the tales of what Metal Weavers can do. I place a hand over my heart and give her a small bow.
“A good night’s sleep far away from this place will heal them more than any Weaving ever could.”
I look at my sister, broken and bruised but alive, and she knows what I’m thinking without a word between us. We turn in unison to the carnage laid out before us. Pulling all the Weaving energy inside me, I add my balls of fire to her wind. In seconds all the dead bodies are smoldering. Inside one of the towers, the telltale flicker of fire bounces off the walls.
We’re going to burn this place to the ground.
For more amazing art by Catherine Langwagen, please visit her Deviant Art page (cassiopeiaart.deviantart.com). Stay tuned for Jen’s answer to this prompt on Friday. Follow us on Twitter to get updates and news.
Artwork © Copyright, Catherine Langwagen 2011. All rights reserved. Used with permission.