Semele was too small to reach much of anything, so I had her climb the ladder and let her preoccupy herself with distractions while I looked for what was needed.
I had an idea where to go, but it wasn’t a good place for her to be, so I left her essentially playing among the shelves.
As I searched, it all came back to me…
They had the advantage of high ground, wagons circled, fires struck.
The woman who faced my father was stunning, proud, and fire all but crackled from her eyes as she looked at him.
Formidable in his own right, he stood with her toe to toe.
I could only hang my head in shame at the dishonor I’d brought to our family, at the same time remembering the feel of her daughter in my arms, writhing beneath me, moaning encouragement as her virgin blood coated me and spilled onto the sheets.
Her climax was loud, full of delighted wonder, and I spasmed as I spent into her, ruining her for anyone else by their code.
There was the sweet afterglow, and now, this bitter aftermath.
“My child cannot marry now, because of your son.” She said it softly enough, but it still somehow sounded like she spat at his feet.
“I will pay the bride price.”
Her laugh was scornful. “You can’t afford that price, my friend, but I will exact one all the same.”
She looked at my mother, holding my sister in her arms, and moved toward her.
All chaos broke loose as my father lunged for the woman, tearing her blouse, exposing her.
Her men sprang on him like a pack of wolves; one of them tripped me, planting my cheek into the dirt as I tried to run to my father’s side. In a moment of inspired cruelty, he pulled me to my feet and gripped me by the hair, pinning my arms behind me as her men worked on their butchering, my dad’s cries of anguish cut abruptly.
With a look of triumph, the woman walked over to my mother, and pried my sister from her arms, putting no more effort into it than taking a stick from a baby’s hand.
I cursed and screamed until the man holding me beckoned another to punch me in the stomach to shut me up. I went to my knees, the wind and the fight knocked out of me.
“Leave her alone, please…” I gasped between breaths.
My mother was paralyzed, eyes glazed with fear and shock.
I heard my father hit the ground. Not understanding what was going to happen, I saw them drop to their knees, ripped him open like a grain sack, and began to stuff his insides into their mouths. I could only stare in silent, unbelieving horror, unable to scream or move.
The men holding me looked on, hunger flaring in their own eyes.
Through the swarm of bodies, my father was a red, wet mass of guts and nothingness.
I looked over at the leader, my vision blurred, my eyes hot.
Her appearance changing to something feral and ugly, a beastly demon with rotting skin beneath her sultry human veneer, she leered at me. Her smiling mouth revealed sharp, serrated teeth as she put Semele to her breast.
Semele pulled softly on the foreign nipple, made a face and pulled away, until the woman soothed her and she took it again.
I tried with the last of my strength to throw off the man that was holding me, screaming my pleas with the last of my voice.
“I did it! I ruined your daughter! Harm me instead! She’s just a baby…”
My cries fell on deaf ears as another gut punch made me buckle and vomit, as something hit me on the back of the head. The last thing I saw was the two men walking away from me, going to take their share of my father’s flesh.
I woke to the light of false dawn, my neck hurting.
My father’s body covered in crows, my mother, her back against a tree, babbling incoherently.
My sister, crawling through the grass toward her, attracted by the sound.
Stumbling and limping as I ran, I caught her, picked her up, and nascent claws scratched my arm.
The pain was mind-numbing, and where she touched me seemed to freeze; I dropped her, but she wasn’t harmed.
As if I hadn’t interrupted her, she began crawling toward our mother again.
“Semele?” No, that’s not Semele…
I looked around, not knowing what I was looking for until I saw it; in the fighting, such as it was, one of them dropped a knife. Not wanting to, but desperate, I took it and ran back, standing over Semele, ready to do the unthinkable. Steeling myself, I plunged the blade down. It turned sideways, scraped her back and twisted my wrist on the follow through, but didn’t penetrate.
Instead, the back of my shirt grew warm with blood, and my back raged with pain. I stumbled and fell, almost on top of her. Aside from a bruise that colored from the force of my blow, Semele was unharmed, turning to look at me with inhuman eyes.
She snarled, little teeth in her mouth that weren’t supposed to be there.
“No…o gods, no!” On my stomach, my back on fire and coated with blood, I could only watch as she clawed her way up our mother’s torso, puncturing flesh with tiny, scimitar nails, and began to bite.
My mother looked down at her, starting to smile until she saw, blinking as she tried to make sense of it. As the realization hit, she looked at the sky, and there was nothing in her eyes. Seeing her daughter turned, she deflated with surrender as Semele began her bloody burrowing.
I didn’t hear her walk up on me, and dropped the book at the sound of her voice.
Her smile was rueful. “You were remembering that night, weren’t you?”
I nodded. “I was.”
“How could you not want to kill me? You tried to do it then; why not now?”
“You were a baby then. You couldn’t…”
“Defend myself? That’s not true.”
“Yes, it is. She made you invulnerable to cutting; if it weren’t for that, you’d be in the field with Father.”
“Thanks to you?”
“It would have been.”
“You’re more…developed. Strength. Skill. Cunning. When it comes down to survival, you’ll defend yourself again. You might even kill me, and I’m your last hope.”
“Then you have to prevail, Ingrum. That’s all there is to it.”
“I wish that were true.”
“Make it true.”
“Did you come to help me, or issue more commands?”
“Can’t I do both?” She smiled.
“Up you go.” I put her on a high rung, and she climbed up in jerky motions, like a squirrel.
If we can’t find a way to cure me, then you must find a way to kill me. Swear it…
Knowing she was so stealthy, so assured even though she was little, so precocious even though she was so young, for a moment I imagined the monster she could grow into, and I wasn’t sure which one I wanted to do: help her, or kill her.
No, she wants you to help her die. There’s a difference.
Father had put the more arcane, forbidden, and dangerous volumes on a high shelf up in the rafters; for all I knew it was rotted through with the dust of the ages, and likely to crumble in my hands.
I sighed, and went up the ladder.
I was closing on my quarry as another memory came.
Mother never screamed…not even once.
I kept climbing,