The Hollow Living Excerpt
Copyright © Sarah Carraway and Future Fantasy Inc.
“Meridith,” a puff of breath against Meridith’s neck was all the warning he had that his cousin and former ally was standing behind him. He hadn’t even heard Pharun arrive; but then again that wasn’t so unusual.
“Pharun,” Meridith breathed. He didn’t turn around or in any way acknowledge his cousin other than that. He knew what Pharun was here for, and he wasn’t just going to hand it to him on a platter.
Pharun giggled, though the sound was more menacing than mirthful. He slid soft ebony hands over Meridith’s shoulders and used his thumbs to stroke the baron’s cheek. “I came back for you. But you knew I would.”
“I knew,” Meridith whispered, chill bumps raising alarm on his skin at his cousin’s touch. “I just didn’t think it would be so soon.”
“Oh, you though I would wait until after the war?” Pharun twisted his fingers up in Meridith’s tunic and lowered his chin until his lips were resting by the baron’s ear. “Why would I wait so long to woo such a valuable ally back over to my side?”
Meridith sighed and bit his bottom lip. He didn’t know what to say. He knew Pharun was only toying with him – and that any moment he might expect death.
Pharun didn’t seem interested in striking his traitorous cousin down right away. Rather, his fingers released Meridith’s tunic and traveled up his neck to his face. They finally touched the strip of black silk that had been wrapped crudely around the baron’s ruined eye. Pressing his lips to Meridith’s ear, Pharun pulled on the silk strip and let it fall to drape around his cousin’s neck. He could see that Malhii had ruined Meridith’s right eye. It was a pity and a shame, for Pharun had been almost as fond of those near-colorless eyes as he was of his own.
“I see Malhii has kept you well,” Pharun said dryly, abandoning his post to walk in front of his cousin, sapphire robes brushing against the stone floor.
“He would never have gotten information from me so easily if he hadn’t resorted to this.” Meridith reached up and touched the knotted flesh that surrounded the savaged cavity. He flinched at the touch but couldn’t seem to pull away. “It doesn’t hurt so much anymore. I just can’t believe it.”
“I would have never done anything so awful to you,” Pharun crooned, slipping a hand under Meridith’s chin to tilt his head up. “Was it worth your spoiled beauty?”
Meridith snorted but didn’t reply.
Pharun dropped his cousin’s chin and turned away, hands clasped behind his back. “I feel obliged to kill you,” he said with only a tinge of sarcasm.
“I would deserve it,” Meridith replied.
“Yes, you would.” Pharun turned back to him, and from the depths of his sleeves drew a knife. “I will never understand why you did it.”
“I don’t understand, myself.” Meridith admitted, his one good eye unable to leave the knife’s shimmering oiled blade. “I never meant to malign you. I didn’t intend to tell them anything at all. And I know I said that it doesn’t hurt now, but…” he spread his hands. “It sure hurt a lot when they first did it.”
“I suppose I can’t blame you,” Pharun said begrudgingly. He lifted his free hand to reveal a tiny glass vial that had not been there before. “More than likely, I would have done the same.”
“What is that?” Meridith tilted his head slightly.
Pharun smiled. “It’s a choice for you to make.”
“What choice?” Meridith narrowed his eyes incredulously.
“I am on increasingly good terms with my heavenly father,” Pharun said. “He has provided me with a small … incentive to put towards your good behavior.”
“Well, I know what that is for,” Meridith indicated the dagger. “I assume that my ‘choice’ is between death and what else? A new eye? I don’t think I could turn that down for anything.”
“It is something infinitely more precious to you,” Pharun held the vial aloft, and Meridith could just make out a faint, pulsing blue light in its center. “It is the soul of a certain indigo-haired infatuation of yours.”
Meridith stared, uncomprehending at first. “Ravenel’s soul? How-?”
“Never mind how, that is not important. Right now I need you to make a decision. You can either choose death, and suffer the consequences of betraying me, or you can choose to live once more in my service, and you can give life to someone else in the process.”
“This isn’t right,” Meridith said. “There has to be a catch, a vessel is needed…?”
“Don’t worry about a vessel,” Pharun said flippantly. “I can take care of that. Make your choice.”
“I don’t trust you,” Meridith said narrowly.
“I can’t get anymore straightforward than this, Meridith dear. This is as direct as I will ever be.” Pharun extended his arm further until the vial was almost touching Meridith’s nose.
Meridith looked up at Pharun, scanning his cousin’s face for any sign of craft that would cost him his dignity in addition to his life.
“You were the first I ever called brother,” Pharun said, his voice carrying a hint of poison. “You may not remember that, but I do. I never cared for Shrukian, or Raul – the gods forbid that Encarz ever had anything to do with me. I never knew companionship until I met you. Do you think that I am so eager to throw you to the underworld?”
Meridith hesitated for only half a second longer, then he snatched the vial out of Pharun’s hand.
Pharun smirked and slid the dagger back into his sleeve. “I knew I couldn’t lose you,” he said victoriously.