The Dark begins and ends with Her, and Sydney Losstarot, Her beloved prophet, honors Her like no other.
He stepped into a great circle marked with candles, and as he glided clockwise around it, each white taper came alight with a flick of his mithril claw. One after the other, flames came to life, bathing the cavernous chamber beneath the abandoned Iocan monastery in a warm glow. The smell of sweet jasmine incense filled the air, and the Sayadin smiled.
It smelled like Her.
A faint drumbeat stirred into existence with the lighting of the final candle, and the closing of the circle. With each light tapping-a slow, steady heartbeat-the Sayadin stepped closer to the center of the circle. The air seemed to shimmer in the smoke of the incense, in the candlelight, and with every step he took, an awareness of the boundaries between realities grew within him. Finally coming to the center of the circle, he was only vaguely aware of his beloveds filing into the chamber, taking places at the cardinal points along the circle's edge. The drumbeat was louder, then, and he sensed Hardin behind him, a pillar of strength and comfort; then, he suddenly realized he must have heard it before Hardin even began playing it. His smile grew wider when he caught the intoxicating scent of his dear Samantha, rosewater perfume distinctive even through the incense, and heard her slender, delicate fingers strumming sensuous notes on a sitar. The sound of short, nervous breaths were followed by the playful trills of a Kildean flute far across from him, and he knew it was Callo, the dark and beautiful moon to Samantha's golden sun. The girls had grown particularly good with the instruments, he noted absently. It made it far easier for him to slip into the waking dream-consciousness of ritual. It amazed him sometimes how much he needed them all; how they eased his burden with the seemingly simplest of things.
He closed his eyes, letting thoughts of them drift from his mind, back into his heart. It was nearly time. Sydney Losstarot, the Sayadin, Master of the Dark, was going to honor Her this night, beautiful and terrible as She was.
And so, he began to dance.
He started with a gentle tapping of his feet, mithril and gold blending in a light, tinkling harmony. His claws flexed as he slowly reached toward the high brick ceiling, drawing intricate spirals in the air.
Sydney was a creature of startling, exotic beauty, incense wafting about his pale, lithe form of flesh and steel, clad only in a loincloth and his anklets. He knew it. Staring out at the edge of the circle, he seduced each of the three celebrants with soft brown eyes elaborately lined in thick kohl. One by one, they grew hypnotized by the slow, sensual movement of his hips, and he wanted to laugh. It was as much a game for him as a ritual to the Lady, though this aspect too was a gift for Her. She delighted in it, as She delighted in him.
The percussion stopped, and he froze in place, a mithril knee bent ever-so-slightly, with his arms outstretched and his razor-sharp talons poised in an O-shaped gesture. At that particular moment, he resembled nothing so much as an ancient statue, a dancing boy captured forever in marble to grace the bier of a temple. He stood absolutely still, waiting...waiting...
A second drum sounded, a powerful, soul-shaking thud that was almost a challenge, when the last celebrant took his place at the edge of the sacred circle. It was joined by the first, and there were two where before there were one, pounding out a fast, ancient rhythm. Sydney leapt in the air, spinning a broad arc of unearthly grace and beauty. He spun and whirled, a desert creature dancing in mad ecstasy. Callo's flute sounded counterpoints to the drums along with Samantha's haunting sitar, but Sydney barely noticed. As he twirled and gyrated with increased urgency, he grew further and further entranced by the music, until he felt his consciousness drift entirely.
In a precious, blessed moment of time beyond time, he felt Her...by the Gods, he felt Her, beautiful Lady of hidden things, Dancer of the Dark...he could feel Her spirit begin to fill him, and he wanted to cry.
Amanatra of the Nine Veils, Black Queen of the Night, Dweller in the Deep Places, Keeper of Shadow, Mother of Mystery, She Who Unlocked the Dark, that stole my heart...enter me, dance with me, O my Beloved...
Eko, eko Amanatra...eko, eko MÃ¼llenkamp...
A pair of golden finger cymbals materialized out of the incense and into Sydney's talons, clinking even as he grasped them. He felt warm, so warm...She smelled of milk and honey, of night-blooming gardens and ancient journeys. Gods above and below, how he loved Her.
Imbued with Her, his arms moved with Hers, parting the veils from Her timeless face-a face that was suddenly his own--together in perfect tandem. He-no, they--glided cat-like across the floor, jingling playfully to the music with softly echoing bells. His claw moved to his hip, guided by Her, and they swiveled in spirals as smooth as liquid. They strut about the circle, swaying effortlessly, each powerful step infused by the intensity of their passion. Sydney was always graceful when he danced, whether for ritual or his own pleasure, but possessed by the Dark Lady, his every movement took on a heightened sensuality, and the very air seemed to burn with the erotic energy of his steps. Filled with Her spirit, held captive in Her powerful grasp, he moved like some sort of beautiful serpent come to steal the souls of those who would dare glimpse upon it. Indeed, his grip on the souls of those he loved grew with every flick of his metallic wrists, with every moment he writhed and clinked Her cymbals. And so did MÃ¼llenkamp's grip on his own, phantom soul.
The music's tempo increased, the rhythm more urgent, as if the Lady Herself were guiding the celebrants' hands as well as Sydney's. He whirled for what seemed like a lifetime in the center of the circle, his vision blurred, completely lost in the music, completely lost in his Lady and their dance.
...Surrender, O My beloved...
The music rose to a crescendo and abruptly ended. Raising his tear-stained face to the ceiling, Sydney cried out, a primal ecstatic moan. He collapsed, crumbling like a sheet of parchment consumed in a fire, but he did not hit the cold, brick floor. Instead, he was enfolded in powerful arms, strong as a titan's, which held him tightly. As his sight returned, and Her spirit left him, he was greeted by a pair of large, brown eyes filled with wonder and a love so fierce it bordered on worship.
No words passed between them. None needed to. Sydney simply wept in joy, like some sort of perverse Iocan saint, and curled up in Ashley Riot's arms. Ashley bent down and kissed him softly, gently wiping away his tears.
Beautiful boys, I love thee well. My beautiful boys.
Sydney smiled and leaned back, pulling a slightly startled Ashley down with him. Perhaps there would be one more offering to the Dark, this night.