The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure - By Storm Constantine

Chapter One

On the night of the last full moon before the winter solstice, the hara of the desert Wraeththu tribe of Kakkahaar cast off their sand-coloured robes and dance naked beneath the stars. It is, for them, the festival of Hubisag, a pitiless hermaphrodite deity of death and dark magic. The Kakkahaar dance around a hungry fire; sparks spiral up into the darkness. Their voices utter mantras to earth and stone. Their fists clench against the sky, then punch the ground. They sway and spin and stamp. Their skins are painted with the blood of sacrifice. They have Medusa hair beneath the moon’s stark light. They are proud and fierce, full of secrets and the mysteries of life, and the knowledge that they are superior among their kind.

It is the most important night of the year, when pledges are made to the god and boons petitioned for. It is not unknown for hara to disappear into the desert before the sun rises and never come out again. Hubisag occasionally takes his own sacrifices. He is not partial to prayers.

But the legends of the Kakkahaar speak of a festival night that surpassed all others. It was the night when the world changed. The world of Wraeththu. Perhaps it was when all hara, whether consciously or not, turned purposefully to approach their own potential, rather than career mindlessly along in wild, ungoverned chaos. In Kakkahaar history, two events happened on this night that brought the tribe closer to Wraeththu destiny than they otherwise might have been.

There were no omens in the sky to herald this change, nor in the entrails of vultures into which the shamans of the tribe peered so closely. There was no warning at all. No har knew that somewhere, far away, other hara, of other tribes, who also believed themselves to be superior among their kind, made decisions and consequently pulled threads upon the web of wyrd. A decision. An order. A result. Perhaps without thought for how far the reverberations on the plucked web would be sensed. For those who had eyes to see. For those with eyes inside.

Ulaume was not Kakkahaar, although he lived among them. In fact, the tribe leader, Lianvis, had bought him some years back, from a travelling band of Colurastes, who had taken care not to mention exactly why they were prepared to sell one of their own into slavery. Lianvis had seen only the surface beauty – he liked pretty, sparkling things – and had perhaps smelled a sense of danger that reminded him very much of himself. The deal had been concluded with almost indecent haste and very little bartering, which even the Colurastes had known was unusual for Kakkahaar. They hadn’t cared about it. They’d simply blessed their gods in silence as the goods changed hands. Then they’d gone away – swiftly.

Ulaume knew his people had been relieved and pleased to see the back of him. He bore little resentment. Slavery existed only in the mind. He felt utterly free. Lianvis approved of most of what he did, and actually seemed pleased when Ulaume did something that he could disapprove of, because there was very little Lianvis wouldn’t do himself. From the very first moment he’d looked into Ulaume’s eyes, the Kakkahaar leader had known he wasn’t looking at a slave. It had been an unspoken message, which Ulaume had been very clear about in his silence. Still, they played the game of master and not-master, even though it was only a game, and a darker, more complex relationship existed between them.

The dwelling of Lianvis was a warren of canopies that looked very permanent, although hara of the tribe could dismantle it within an hour, scour the site to eradicate signs of their presence and melt into the desert as if they’d never been there. The Kakkahaar were adept at illusion.

Ulaume had his own rooms within the pavilion, where the walls were never still, prey to the insidious breezes that breathed sand into every corner. He had a mirror that was exactly his own height and it was very old. Somehar had stolen it from the silent ruins of a rich human’s house and then, some time later, had sold it to Lianvis, once they’d realised it was actually quite cumbersome to haul around the desert. For this reason, Lianvis had acquired it at a very good price. Its glass was flawless and the frame looked as if it had been designed by an evil witch queen, writhing as it