Weasel was not the name he was born with- it was the name he had earned.
His mother had called him Gloss, but that was long ago, in a different life. A life in which he still had a mother, and a sister. Pretty names and mothers, those were things for babies. Weasel was not a baby. Weasel was a survivor. The reapings had taken his entire family, one by one, but not him. Never him. Weasel was too sneaky, too quick. Too good at remaining unnoticed. They'd never caught him, and they never would catch him.
Unless he let them.
The face belonged to a young woman: a beautiful young woman with high cheekbones and a narrow chin, whose lips and eyelids were stained a vivid, damning red.
The eyes within those lids were bright with disbelieving tears.
"Gloss," she whispered, and a strangely buzzing part of Weasel's brain realized that there was a tiny gap between her front teeth. The same gap his mother had had...
"You're dead," he said.
"I know," she said, and the tears began to fall.
"No, you're dead," Weasel insisted, shaking his head. "You were taken in a reaping and you're dead. No one survives a reaping!"
The woman who should have been dead smiled and reached out with her other hand to touch Weasel's face, to still it. He should have flinched away from her touch, but instead he leaned into it. Her flesh was cold, and the scent not what he remembered, but... it wasn't completely unfamiliar.
"Oh baby, I didn't survive," she said.
Almost as soon as he had the thought, he was on the stranger, a muscular man who surely thought he had nothing to fear in a darkened alleyway- certainly not from a spindly child.
Wrong, thought Weasel, his hand clamped firmly over the man’s mouth. The man must have struggled, but it had less effect on Weasel than a captured moth’s fluttering. He dragged the man over to his mother, whom he’d left laying on the cobblestones.
“Drink,” he said, holding the man towards her, but she didn’t respond. “Mama, you have to drink!” But Longreed was past hearing him. Sobbing with frustration, Weasel bit the man’s neck himself, and pressed it to his mother’s mouth. The taste of blood made him want to vomit, and he spat out what had collected on his tongue, gagging. The man’s struggles grew even weaker as his blood pumped uselessly out of the jagged hole in his neck, but still Longreed did not move- not even to swallow.
“Drink!” shrieked Weasel, past caring who heard him. But Longreed didn’t drink, couldn’t drink. Her breathing had stopped. The blood had pooled in her mouth and was overflowing around her, making a widening pool on the street.
Weasel howled in despair, flinging the human’s corpse away from him with such force that he heard bones shatter when it hit a wall. The sound triggered something vicious in him, and he began to strike out at the stone walls around him, crushing and destroying until the air was so thick with dust and debris that he was choking on it.
The choking made him stop, and instinctively he leapt up out of the cloud, seeking clear air. When he found it he clung to the roof, coughed until his lungs were clear- but the roof began to shudder, and soon the building was collapsing beneath him. He jumped to the next building, realizing as he did so that he was abandoning his mother.
He tried to twist in mid-air, and ended up falling to the street below him, hitting with a force that should have killed him. Would have killed him, if he hadn’t been a god. No one noticed the child falling from the sky, however, because all eyes were turned towards the falling building- the building he had destroyed in his rage and grief.
Run, his mother’s voice was in his head. You must make the most of it while you can. You must go. Now. Go and live. It is all I want of you.
The child-god ran.
He was no longer a god, that was certain, but he wasn't quite human again, either. He couldn't feel the Elixir in his veins, but he was still a little stronger than he should have been, a little quicker. Didn't get hungry so often as he should, didn't tire as quickly.
He tried not to stare at the glass of wine, which glimmered red and black in the lamplight and reminded him of nothing so much of his mother's blood spilling across the stones. He didn't want to drink it, but then again, part of him did. People loved wine, seemed to love being drunk. If being drunk was anything like being Arete, how could he not at least try it?
He took a large gulp, then gasped and sputtered as it burned his throat. The others laughed and pounded his back as he tried to regain his breath.
It's nothing at all like Elixir, he thought, and forces himself to take another sip. It's too thin, too sour. It doesn't even taste like plums! He finished his glass, and they poured him another. He felt a warmth blossoming in his stomach, and as he drank again the warmth crept into his thighs and became a numbness.
This... was not what he had expected.
He didn't like it. He didn't like it at all. This was exactly the opposite of being Arete- everything was swimming, and he'd lost the fine control of his muscles that he prided himself on. Why do they like this? he wondered, trying desperately to find a place to lie down as his new compatriots roared with laughter. But he knew why.
They've never had Elixir. If they had, they'd never want to... to do this to themselves!
"The bloodmages have the best part of the palace, of course, after Godemperor himself. We are his most valuable subjects, more precious to him than the Kingpriests, and we live accordingly. It's a wonderful life, child. You're very fortunate to be one of us."
"Why are we so important to him?" Mirror asked, awed at the idea of this new life that awaited her.
"Because we are the only ones who can make more Risen," said Redstorm.
"We make the mosnters?" Mirror shrank back in horror.
"Of course," Redshard laughed. "You didn't think they sprang up naturally, did you?"
Mirror shrugged. Truth was, she hadn't given much thought at all to where the Risen came from- the fact that they existed was more than terrible enough.
"But- but why do we make them?"
"What do you know of the Arete?" asked Redstorm, giving Redshard a quelling look. The woman sat back and smirked.
"They're very rich and pretty and never die," said Mirror. "And they have red teeth."
"And do you know why they have red teeth?"
"It is because they drink the Elixir."
"What's the el- elih- what's that?"
"Elixir is the blood of a Risen."
"They drink blood? But the Risen drink blood!"
"The Risen drink the blood of humans," Redstorm corrected. "Arete drink the blood of the Risen, and they are as far above the Risen as the risen are above the humans they prey upon."
"For thousands of years the Risen called themselves gods on earth," Redshard said scornfully. "But Godemperor overthrew them, because he is the only true god. He created the Arete to govern and protect his human subjects, but the Arete require Elixir, and since we are the only ones who can create more Risen, we are the most beloved of Godemperor's subjects."
So now you can see what I've been up to (this month, anyway). And now I have to get back to it! More to come, promise...