In a world where everything has changed, two immortals flee for sanctuary. A violent, pitiless order pursues them, but why?
The gifts Kalyan and Lazarus possess mark them as uncommon even among the Changed People, but when they made the mistake of stealing from the Agisci monks, their theft revealed a dark truth.
Now they must expose it, or let it claim them.
“intricate … compelling … a fascinating world with an alluring lyrical prose”
~ Rainbow Reviews
An Excerpt from ALMOST HUMAN
Copyright © M. KING
All Rights Reserved, Lydian Press
Last Moon marked the beginning of the end; the final harvest of the year, and a last statement of defiance in the face of the oncoming winter. As such, there were always celebrations, no matter the size of the town or village. Whole communities in outlying regions would uproot and travel to the nearest fair to take part in the delights of hog roasts, candied apples, and a general refusal to bow before the snow. Thanks would be given for the year, and the three harvests of grape, grain and meat. Usually some traveling order would tout a relic of mystery and supposed power before the faithful. At the point between the light and dark, where the world’s veil grew thin and minds turned to the questions of survival over the cold months, a small window existed where the Changed found themselves, if not welcomed, then tolerated among humans. It was possible to the walk through the streets without attracting so much as a second glance, or near enough.
When he was a boy, Kalyan loved the annual masquerades of the city. Two weeks of Carnival, with rules suspended, morés broken, and the pretences of civilization put away. People roamed as Nature had made them: proud, free beasts, ripe with passion and fuelled by hunger. The one time of year his clan left the shadows, the abandoned factories and the slums to walk openly in the whiskey-drenched sunlight. His first time, just fourteen, his powers almost fully emerged, and older boys of the mother clan had treated him like a mascot, a puppy or new-found toy. They encouraged him to jump off things, brand himself with hot irons, slice his skin with knives and razors, just to watch him heal. He’d done it all, endured each agony like a badge for their amusement, their acceptance. His clan master—the man who, in a less austere tribe, he might have called ‘Father’—put a stop to it after the older boys hit Kalyan with bricks and sticks, then pushed him out into the middle of the Carnival parade, streaming with blood and screaming, to heal before the horrified crowd. He remembered the flash of sequins, blinding torchlight and contorted faces all around him, the tremulous gasps and squeals of women and the revulsion of men.
Healing hurt, every single time.
The incident caused something of a scene. “It is not”, his clan master said between each stroke of the beating he administered, “Something to ever be repeated. Not on any account.”
Kalyan’s flesh couldn’t scar, but each blow of the master’s staff had seared itself into the tissue of his memory. He found it hard to remember that Lazarus never had such a harsh induction to their way of life. He was Changed, yes, but he’d come to his tribe late, coddled with all the gentleness of the human world; all those assumptions, those pompous, ignorant declarations of rights, the demands and expectations of security and comfort. Pipe dreams and arrogance, all of it. A stupid idealism founded on an unworkable vision of a distant, improbable Utopia…and yet they still believed in it. Lazarus still believed.
Kalyan struggled with that, aware his unease didn’t change facts. That night, back in Deadriver, he foolishly hoped he could change things. He realized now how wrong he’d been. The Agisci Order had come to town under a cloak of suspicion, loaded with riches and supercilious smiles, and not at all what the inhabitants were used to seeing. Deadriver was a town where the Changed were almost as good as normal; traveling monks, even those with sumptuous robes and cedar wood chests, would be unlikely to be met with open arms. Yet the Agisci waltzed straight in like they owned the place, spewing forth their poison. Kalyan recognized it for that almost at once. Words, bitter as gall, honeyed with hope and promise. Parables of trust, of innocence and unity, yet all the while tainted with circumspection. The brothers claimed to be preparing for Last Moon—some sacred rite for the benediction of the gods during the harsh winter ahead—and said they planned to wait out the hardest months among the townsfolk. Not a fortnight after they arrived, attitudes to the Changed began to alter. Tolerance made way for distrust, and blind eyes turned to snooping.
It worried Kalyan. He thought of leaving then, stealing away in the night before it all turned sour, as he’d seen it do once before. Somewhere else. Only Lazarus had stopped him. They were bonded for life and beyond it, Kalyan felt sure, but he recognized that something needed to be done. The Agisci presented a test that he must see Lazarus face. It came to him in a dream, the garbled way that such visions often did, and he woke in a cold sweat.
He’d known Lazarus wouldn’t understand, and why should he? What had he ever seen of humanity’s darker side? Lazarus looked no further into the fire than the depth of the flames. It might, Kalyan supposed, be one of his most attractive qualities. He looked over at where his lover lay, slumbering beneath the tattered blankets, his clothes and inhibitions long since discarded.
Deadriver had changed him, maybe. Knocked out some of the hesitancy and insecurity he’d had when they first met. Kalyan remembered telling him during the first week they were together—amid the heat and want, in the depths of that burnished crucible—how he must never again be diffident, ashamed, be anything less than proud.
We are more than all of them, for we are eternal.
Yet Lazarus had shaken his head, his touch cooling Kalyan’s fevered skin.
Not more. Just different.
Kalyan had laughed, though now he saw Lazarus’ point. Immortality was one thing—and a great, burning brand of thing, at that—but without the finality of death, the intricacies of loss, defeat and waning, did existence not blur at it edges, let some vital meaning ebb from it? Fear, that gnawing thing which had haunted the breaches of Kalyan’s years, urged him to cling still tighter to life, just as he clung to Lazarus…fiercely, and blindly.
Yes. More. Brighter, and greater, and filled to the brim with it.
Lazarus had reproached Kalyan when he mocked the Agisci, telling him he should learn tolerance if he expected it in others. He’d never believed they were truly dangerous. Perhaps that—more than love—was why he’d crept, close to Kalyan’s side, into the shadowed chamber in which the monks slept, above Deadriver’s only inn. Eight brothers piled into one room, not at all unlike the one he and Lazarus shared now. And a chest, full of riches. That was different.
It had been about proving a point, demonstrating that Lazarus would follow him anywhere. A dare, a challenge… a dream. How well Lazarus had fulfilled it! They would teach the Agisci a lesson, remind them not to meddle with those who had no need of their bile and fear, and in so doing, cement the bond between them. Lazarus had probably never stolen so much as a glance before, yet he’d grasped the concept quickly, following in Kalyan’s footsteps and loving every minute of it.
Kalyan had to admit it had been exhilarating. He even felt a rush he’d not experienced in far too long—both from the wanton misbehavior, and the equally wanton effect it had on Lazarus once they were alone. Perhaps they might have overstepped the mark. Stealing from monks was one thing…but the stone talisman they found at the bottom of the cedar wood chest did not fit among the tithe monies and fancy jewels. Now, Kalyan crossed to where their packs stood and nudged the bundles with a wary foot. Whatever it was, the Agisci Order wanted it back. That much was clear. No sooner had they run, giggling like children, back to the safety of Kalyan’s room behind the adjacent saddler, than he had the first inkling of a mistake.
Almost Human by M. King | Length: short fiction / 16,000 words | Published by: Lydian Press (this story was previously published by loveyoudivine alterotica)