Looking for feedback on this LGBT fantasy story I've written, and hope to submit to a contest. It is about a sorceress, Saelyn, who has created her own settlement in ice age Carema, a refuge for trafficked women.
The world was black and cold, no different than it had been yesterday and the thousand days before. Summer was no more than a faded memory in Saelyn’s mind. She didn’t miss the warmth. There was plenty of heat inside their domais, round-topped homes with fires that burned and burned and never went out. She always made sure that her treasures were taken care of.
On that day, she would be taking in more treasures. Saelyn climbed down from her post atop the metal skeleton, using tarnished bolts as foot and handholds as she went, her movements eager underneath layers of black wool.
There were dozens of women out and about on that clear day. Every one of them had been born to the cold, and then reborn to the cold. Some were so used to frigidness that they didn’t need the usual thick fur parkas and hide-lined headwraps. The citizens of the Wolfena were busy in most part tending the flocks of tanabucks. The massive, antlered, triple-cloved beasts were their greatest livelihood, providing everything from meat to warmth to candles to weapons. Their coats alternated between black and reddish, sensing a seasonal pull that the humans could not quite detect.
Saelyn felt both her mind and magic buzzing with excitement. Ceremonies were few and far between in a place where each day was a struggle and a skipped chore could mean death.
She walked to the outermost domai of the small but growing village, and pushed through the weighted flap to the inside. Five young women looked up at her, reverence, awe, and comfort showing on their faces. A couple of them smiled. They were all in different stages of going about their morning, some fully dressed while others were slipping into their ceremonial fringes. Saelyn found her eyes lingering upon one of them—Rennai, the most promising of the six, a powerful young sorceress. Her magic was as incredible to behold as her form was. Her blue eyes shone in sharp contrast to her dark skin, and locks of brown-black hair cascaded over feminine shoulders.
“How are you this morning?” Saelyn asked, “are you all ready for the ceremony tonight?”
“We’re ready,” said Rennai, dipping her head as Saelyn approached, “more than ready to follow you.”
The matriarch smiled and stepped forward, reaching out to touch Rennai’s cheek. She caressed the soft skin, feeling the warm glow of her aura, her magic, her longing for touch and heat. It put a longing in Saelyn, too, one that she would suppress until later in the night. “I’m glad to hear it,” said Saelyn. Reluctantly, she let her hand fall away. “But do not forget that tonight, I make a promise to you as well. You are not offering yourselves in service to me; we offer our love, tolerance, and protection to one another.” She took another glance at Rennai, prospects of the future drifting easily through her mind. “Irahna will be along shortly to help you apply your decorations.”
Satisfied that her future treasures were ready, physically and emotionally, Saelyn returned to her own quarters to spend the remainder of her day with the Deis. She followed an old religion nearly extinct from the land of Carema, the Deis serving as a general term for the thousands of goddesses and gods worshipped in the days of old.
The spikes of her boots echoed off the metal hallway, her breath puffing misty clouds as she walked past vents and pipes hung with icicles formed long ago. Despite the frigid temperatures outside, when she stepped into her temple the air was hot, almost stiflingly so. The fire at the far left of the room crackled with preternatural energy. She knelt in front of it and reached out to take some of the flame up in her palm. She transferred it to a smaller fire pit and put water on to steam, filling it with strong oils, introducing a tangy, heady scent into the air.
She sat upon a cushion, facing her mirror. After a few moments of breathing, Saelyn saw the smoke on her shoulders who she had long ago named Daseil. She greeted the three red eyes which shone out from it with a smile and the demon whispered to the back of her mind. The cloying smoke of incense wrapped her up, blurring her thoughts, and she began to shed layers when sweat prickled at her surface.
Pieces of her long black hair clung to russet skin, streaming down back and breasts like dripping oil. Her head swayed slowly from side to side, neurons firing in overtime as the muscles in her neck loosened and her shoulders drooped. The visions were vague at first, flashing, violent colors, a thousand pairs of eyes gazing at her within a few heartbeats. Then, the pictures slowed, and she saw Rennai before her, dipping her feet into an oasis. There was steam rising from the pool of red rocks, though everywhere else around her the landscape was filled with snow. Saelyn felt her stomach warming as Rennai unwrapped scarves from herself, revealing raised scars of a fractal nature covering both her biceps—the ones that would be carved into her skin when she was reborn later that night.
Rennai glanced back at her, turning so that Saelyn could see the curve of her small breasts, the dipping muscles of her hips and thighs. Yellow-amber eyes beckoned her, but as Saelyn stepped forward, the vision dissipated around her.
She was left with an endless lifetime of undulating colors and sensations of soaring. She returned to the first plane only when she felt the cold seeping in from the outside. Saelyn gave herself a few moments to recover before standing up to feed her hearth the waxy rocks she had designed long ago that kept the fires burning far longer than any type of wood was able.
Already, she could hear the raucous outside. Her Firsts had begun without her, as asked. A calm smile formed on her lips. Heavy tones of undulating music preserved from the time when true society still existed thumped through their village, tugging at Saelyn’s chest. Her treasures would be wearing their ceremonial shoulder coverings and fringes on their hips. On this night, when both moons were gone from the sky, they would not allow themselves to be cold; they would dance and celebrate until the Child returned to the sky with its radiant light. The bonfire burning at the center would raise droplets of sweat, melting the snow away from the ground and letting them feel earth and grass, even if it was dead grass. They would be at the mercy of the music for a long while. Saelyn held no haste as she applied the greasepaint around her eyes and the red ochre over the scarification on her arms. Her chest would be bare like her treasures were, and when she finally stepped out into the night, she inhaled sharply at the iciness that assaulted her skin.
There is no heat without the cold, she reminded herself, walking past the fire to take her seat, the place where she could watch everything from above. She loved to see them dancing and drinking of the dreamtea, freeing their minds and bodies in a way that women throughout the rest of Carema could not. Soon, the ceremony would be performed, and the initiates would become part of the Wolfena. After, there would be more celebration, more drinking, and at the end of the evening Saelyn would pick one woman to return with her to her chambers, to dance together in the heavy incense smoke and upon her furs, seeking ecstasy.
Unbeknownst to the rest of them, Saelyn had already made her choice. She drank in the magic which swirled around the hearth fire, resisting the urge to let her body move as well. For the safety of her new treasures she would have to conserve every molecule of energy.
When the time came, she stood up from her eclectic throne—a fusion of wooden and metal scraps rubbed with coal that left smudges of black amongst the ochre on her skin. At her movement, the rumbling music faded out, and the women’s wild dancing ceased. They began to gather near the wide platform of the throne, eyes of many colors wide and vivacious, their hair tangled, shining lustrous in the firelight. Saelyn sighed deeply, a contented breath full of love and passion and satisfaction misting its way over the crowd. It had taken her so many years to build this following. She had given so much blood, so much energy, but she had received so much more in return.
“Initiates, please come forward,” she said. Though her voice was quiet it, reached every ear.
The five women worked their way through the small crowd, and Saelyn called Ama to her first. She had tears in her dark eyes as she stepped up onto the platform. She went to her knees, and the sorceress cupped her face in her hands.
The spell in and of itself was a simple one, but it took great amounts of power. It had been used in the ancient times to stop the heart of a person possessed, killing the demon inside quickly enough for the human to be resurrected with a second shock of electric energy. Sharp intakes of breath rang out when the young woman went limp. Saelyn eased her gently to the ground. Ama’s heart ceased to beat, her chest stilled; Saelyn closed her eyes, and pressed her palm to Ama’s bare sternum, letting the tension build for a few moments. The initiate then gasped awake, looking confused until her eyes met Saelyn’s.
“Rise, my treasure—you are reborn a princess to smoke and blood and cold, and will always have a home amongst the Wolfena, and the protection of a thousand Deis.”
Ama burst into tears, holding tight to Saelyn’s scarred arms as she was pulled again to her feet. Saelyn held her close, stroking and kissing her hair before the women gathered to help her down from the stage.
She performed the initiation on the next three in order of age, youngest to oldest. With the greatest care and control of her abilities, she stopped their hearts and restarted them with a jolt, rebirthing them. Each of them had a different reaction upon waking, but relief and elation were the strongest emotions Saelyn could feel pouring from them. It made her heart full to bursting and the eternal wish resided within her that she had had the Wolfena when she was their age… when she’d been brutalized, excommunicated, used like an animal. The old fury burst up in her as Rennai came on the stage, the fury that led her to save, protect, and redeem these women who had been tortured at the hands of slavers and traffickers.
Rennai herself had been the survivor of a gruesome raid upon the small city she was confined to. Half alive in the pile of rubble that had once been the brothel she served was how Saelyn had found her. The Rennai before her was now flourishing with vibrant life, and though the scars from the incident remained, they were worn with pride rather than shame.
“Before our world fell into the Cold Night,” Saelyn said softly as Rennai approached her, “this land was called Carram. It was a kingdom of peace and beauty, and people of all kinds were regarded with respect and reverence. That time has fallen away, but among the Wolfena, all of us are equal, and all of us are revered.”
Rennai’s energy was calmer, more controlled than all of the others. Their eyes were locked together as she went to her knees before Saelyn, looking deeply into one another, communicating without words.
She will be at my side, always, from this night on, Saelyn thought. She touched Rennai’s face, their eye contact finally breaking as heavily-lashed lids fluttered shut. She gathered the woman in her arms, laying her down with grace. Daseil stirred upon her shoulders.
When she pressed upon Rennai’s sternum, her heart did not kickstart back to life. Saelyn went stiff, her mind sputtering to a halt. She tried again, pouring more energy and magic into the spell this time. Still nothing. The women below began to stir, glancing anxiously to one another.
No, Saelyn screamed inside, no, I have never lost one. I cannot lose her. Daseil, help me.
For the first time in seventeen years, the demon’s weight lifted from her shoulders. She was the only one who could see the smoke trail its way into Rennai’s cold, open eyes. In the next moment the woman blinked, inhaling sharply, her chest rising in a gorgeous gasp. Saelyn helped her to sit up, not allowing the relief to show on her face. The Wolfena cheered around her, some falling to their knees, some so taken with emotion that they held each other as they cried.
“Rennai, how do you feel?” Saelyn asked, looking into the blue irises that had changed in expression so drastically. She held onto her, afraid that if she let go Rennai would collapse again. She searched for any sign of the demon’s presence and found none.
Rennai looked at her hands, touched her bare chest, breathing deeply as she smiled up at the woman she considered something of a goddess. “Free,” she said, reaching up to run her fingers through Saelyn’s long hair, her touch coming to rest on her jaw. “I feel free.”