A Brief History of the World
Long ago, Namid gave birth to all kinds of life, including the beings known as humans. She gave the humans fertile pieces of herself, and she gave them good water. Understanding their nature and the nature of her other offspring, she also gave them enough isolation that they would have a chance to survive and grow. And they did.
They learned to build fires and shelters. They learned to farm and build cities. They built boats and fished in the Mediterran and Black seas. They bred and spread throughout their pieces of the world until they pushed into the wild places. That’s when they discovered that Namid’s other offspring already claimed the rest of the world.
The Others looked at humans and did not see conquerors. They saw a new kind of meat.
Wars were fought to possess the wild places. Sometimes the humans won and spread their seed a little farther. More often, pieces of civilization disappeared, and fearful survivors tried not to shiver when a howl went up in the night or a man, wandering too far from the safety of stout doors and light, was found the next morning drained of blood.
Centuries passed, and the humans built larger ships and sailed across the Atlantik Ocean. When they found virgin land, they built a settlement near the shore. Then they discovered that this land was also claimed by the terra indigene, the earth natives. The Others.
The terra indigene who ruled the continent called Thaisia became angry when the humans cut down trees and put a plow to land that was not theirs. So the Others ate the settlers and learned the shape of this particular meat, just as they had done many times in the past.
The second wave of explorers and settlers found the abandoned settlement and, once more, tried to claim the land as their own.
The Others ate them too.
The third wave of settlers had a leader who was smarter than his predecessors. He offered the Others warm blankets and lengths of cloth for clothes and interesting bits of shiny in exchange for being allowed to live in the settlement and have enough land to grow crops. The Others thought this was a fair exchange and walked off the boundaries of the land that the humans could use. More gifts were exchanged for hunting and fishing privileges. This arrangement satisfied both sides, even if one side regarded its new neighbors with snarling tolerance and the other side swallowed fear and made sure its people were safely inside the settlement’s walls before nightfall.
Years passed and more settlers arrived. Many died, but enough humans prospered. Settlements grew into villages, which grew into towns, which grew into cities. Little by little, humans moved across Thaisia, spreading out as much as they could on the land they were allowed to use.
Centuries passed. Humans were smart. So were the Others. Humans invented electricity and plumbing. The Others controlled all the rivers that could power the generators and all the lakes that supplied fresh drinking water. Humans invented steam engines and central heating. The Others controlled all the fuel needed to run the engines and heat the buildings. Humans invented and manufactured products. The Others controlled all the natural resources, thereby deciding what would and wouldn’t be made in their part of the world.
There were collisions, of course, and some places became dark memorials for the dead. Those memorials finally made it clear to human government that the terra indigene ruled Thaisia, and nothing short of the end of the world would change that.
So it comes to this current age. Small human villages exist within vast tracts of land that belong to the Others. And in larger human cities, there are fenced parks called Courtyards that are inhabited by the Others who have the task of keeping watch over the city’s residents and enforcing the agreements the humans made with the terra indigene.
There is still sharp-toothed tolerance on one side and fear of what walks in the dark on the other. But if they are careful, the humans survive.
Most of the time, they survive.
Thaisday, Maius 10
Meg Corbyn entered the bathroom in the Human Liaison’s Office and laid out the items she’d labeled the tools of prophecy: antiseptic ointment, bandages, and the silver folding razor decorated with pretty leaves and flowers on one side of the handle. On the other side of the handle, engraved in plain lettering, was the designation cs759. For twenty-four years, that designation had been the closest thing she’d had to a name.
She had a name now and a real apartment instead of a sterile cell. In the compound where she had been raised and trained . . . and used . . . she’d had one friend: Jean, the girl who wouldn’t allow anyone to forget that she’d once had a home and a family outside the compound—the girl who had helped Meg escape.
Now Meg had many friends, and it didn’t matter to her that most of them weren’t human. The terra indigene had given her a chance to have a life, were helping her find ways to live with the addiction that would eventually kill her. But Simon Wolfgard, leader of the Lakeside Courtyard, insisted he’d seen someone like her who had survived long enough to become an old woman.
She wanted to believe that was possible. She hoped this morning’s experiment might provide a clue to how it was possible.
After checking to make sure she hadn’t forgotten anything they would need, Meg sat on the closed toilet seat and waited for Merri Lee, the human friend who was learning to work as her listener and interpreter.
The cassandra sangue saw prophecies when their skin was cut. They were trained to describe the visions and images. But the girls weren’t taught how to interpret what they saw. That would have been pointless. The moment a girl began to speak, a euphoria filled her, veiling her mind and protecting her from what those images revealed. In fact, the only way a blood prophet could remember what she saw was to keep silent. If she didn’t say the words out loud, she remembered what she saw.
It took a particular kind of determination—or desperation—to endure the agony that filled a girl when she didn’t speak after her skin was cut. And experiencing the euphoria that was almost orgasmic was the whole reason cassandra sangue became addicted to the cutting in the first place.
It took a particular kind of courage to acknowledge that she couldn’t completely escape the addiction after so many years of being cut on a regular schedule for someone else’s profit. The prophecies inside her would not be denied. Whether she wanted to or not, Meg needed to cut.
That was the reason today’s appointment with the razor was so important. She wasn’t experiencing the pins-and-needles feeling that indicated something was going to happen. Nothing pushed at her, and that made this morning the perfect time to discover what happened when she made a controlled cut.