Without waiting for the priestess to prompt me, I lowered my hand down onto the stone, gritting my teeth just as Solen had, my stare fixed on the, as yet, unblemished copper skin of my hand.
The gathered crowd were all still distracted, talking amongst themselves in loud worried voices. I don’t think a single one noticed what I was doing, but I felt my father’s anguished gaze on me, his continued silence telling me louder than any words that my judgement was right. The ceremony had to be completed, even in Shari’s absence because there was still the slight chance that the Goddess would overlook the rash actions of a single young girl. There was no way she would forgive a Chieftain’s daughter for the same indiscretion. For the sake of our people, I had to take any chance that I could to make this right again, even if it meant giving up my own life in order to do so.
My heart was beating loudly in my ears and I focused on its fast, rhythmic beat. The serpent uncoiled, twin heads raising up, emotionless, coal-black eyes, staring deep into my own. It struck, and I watched in fear and revulsion as both arrow-shaped heads sank their sharp fangs deep into my flesh, its turquoise scales turning a vivid violet colour under the flickering light of the torches. The priestess gasped, and I screamed in fear and pain as the Amphis’ poison lit my veins on fire. I felt myself falling as the world fell to blackness.
When consciousness finally found me again and I opened my eyes the world around me was still pitch-black. I lay still, trying to slow my ragged breathing. Where on earth was I? The surface beneath me was far too soft and warm to be the cold stone dais, which was where the last memory, which my foggy mind could drag up, placed me. My mind immediately flashed back to the horror of watching the Amphis’ twin heads striking, pumping their burning poison deep into my veins. I quickly pushed the image away again.
Doing a quick mental sweep of my body I realised that all of that overwhelming burning pain was gone now, in fact, I realised that all of the minor scrapes and bruises from my morning riding the rapids with Shari were also gone. Was I dead? The question came unbidden, and my confused mind scrambled frantically at the thought of it.
No. That didn’t seem right? I was still breathing in and out for one thing, and I could clearly feel the sun’s warmth on my skin. Wait! What? Why could I feel the sun’s warmth when it was clearly the middle of the night still?
I frantically blinked my eyes open and closed, rubbing them hard but the enveloping darkness refused to budge. Panicking in earnest now I tried to sit up but my head still felt funny and the sudden movement sent me tumbling off of whatever platform I’d been laid on. I landed face-down on hard wooden floorboards which were awash in blinding light. The impact didn’t hurt to my surprise, but the jolting stop and sudden return of my sight sent my poor mind spinning dizzily. I closed my eyes tightly against the spinning room and curled up in a ball on the floor, waiting desperately for it to pass.
When I finally felt well enough to stand I used the platform to help pull myself up. It took my eyes a moment more to adjust fully to the bright light coming in through the window on the far side of, what turned out to be, a raised timber trestle bed. I didn’t recognise the surroundings or the bed in front of me, but unfortunately, I couldn’t say the same for the all too familiar face of the girl lying lifelessly in its centre.