Excerpt: Being Cosmopolitan Demands a Sacrifice

Alex had a spectacular view of the birthday celebrations. She was right on the very top of the pyramid, and the fact that her hands were tied behind her back to an enormous stone stake hardly got in the way at all.

Below her, the citizens of the Kingdom of the Dawn (“population 10,000, please drive your chariot carefully”) gazed up with deep respect. Well, Alex told herself it was deep respect. Upon reflection, it could have been quiet bloodlust, but she tried very hard to dismiss that idea. After all, she had a place of high honour in the proceedings. She had been treated with the utmost respect during every moment of the celebrations, up to and including the highly respectful way the guards had seized her shortly after she had emerged from her morning bath, moving on to the vast deference they had shown her as they carefully bound her hand and foot, and not forgetting the staggering politeness with which they had explained that she was to be a sun-sacrifice for the coming-of-age celebrations of Prince Nazzier. Dazed from a rather good bath and too many carafes of wine the night before, Alex found herself somewhat slow on the uptake, and only finally understood the terminal implications of the proposed arrangement when the guards left her tethered, as it were, to the giant stone stake at the very top of the pyramid.

The pyramid, ironically, had been the whole reason they decided to take a detour on their way home and come to visit the Kingdom of the Dawn. (“It’s so quaint!” Sheeshkar purred earlier. “Look at the brochure! See, it says they still practice this adorable human sacrifice deal! Wow, do you think we’ll get to see that?”).

The pyramid was huge and, Alex had to admit, very impressive. They certainly didn’t do things by halves, the Kingdom of Dawn-ers. No, when they decided to make a giant imposing monument to underline the transience of mortal existence, they really didn’t do things by halves.

Alex sighed again, and tried without much hope to wriggle out of the tight knots that bound her hands.

“What are they waiting for?” she muttered without looking at Sheeshkar.

Sheeshkar stopped licking herself for long enough to cast a critical eye over the massed ranks of people, who were gazing up at the top of the pyramid with shining, devout eyes.

“We-ll,” said the sleek white cat, stretching her body luxuriously in the sun, “based on the hints and things in that brochure, I would say they’re probably just waiting for midday.”

“What will happen at midday?” asked Alex, giving one last vicious tug to the rope. She stared darkly at it when it completely failed to split in two.

“One of two things,” Sheeshkar confidently predicted. “Either, number one, they will burst into cheers, untie you, declare this symbolic sacrifice complete and announce your marriage to this Prince Nazzier of theirs…”

“Oh, yes?” said Alex, brightening up.

“Or number two, the seas will part and Kranox, vast monster of the deep, will emerge amid a great crashing and foaming of waves, and eat you whole.”

“Hmm,” said Alex. She paused. “Are you leaning any way, particularly?”

At that moment, the sun seemed to shine even brighter. A deeper silence engulfed the waiting crowds. Into that silence, a bubbling noise began to intrude.

“Ooo, that must be the solstice!” exclaimed Sheeshkar excitedly. “Do you think we’ll get a good view?”

Alex had time to shoot one unbelieving glance at the cat and wonder vaguely why she had ever chosen the insufferable thing to be her traveling companion, and then the sun was blotted out, and she found she had rather bigger things to worry about.

Huge things, in fact.

The chains that bound her hands were very solid, but they were not cruelly tight, and she was able to turn all the way around. And there was nothing to stop her neck going back.

This was a good thing, because to understand what she was seeing, she ended up having to lean so far backward she ended up sitting down.

Even then she couldn’t see everything.

Kranox, vast monster of the deep, was certainly not a disappointment.

He was huge.

In fact, Alex thought wildly, the word ‘huge’ didn’t suit him, mainly because it didn’t take long enough to say.

“Gigantic?” she whispered out loud. “Titanic? Staggering?”

She heard a disapproving little snort beside her.

“Well, those are all well and good,” said Sheeshkar vainly. “But I think ‘ginormous’ suits it better.”

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