“That’s-that’s not true,” Xia croaked. She shook her head from side to side. “That can’t be true.” She stole a glance at her grandmother, and was dismayed to see a furious expression marring the old woman’s face.
“You dare speak of this?” Marianna thundered. The Child only chuckled.
“Grandmother?” Xia ventured. She chanced a step toward the mother of her mother, and was rewarded with a scowl.
“Don’t call me that!” The Other spat. “You forget your place and yourself. Never speak to me in such a familiar manner.”
“Is it true?” Xia trembled as she awaited the answer. “Was my whole life a lie?”
“And what of it? I protected this order, and what was my thanks? To have my Marks burned off! Have you any idea what the smell of your own flesh burning is like? Have you any idea of the pain?”
“And that’s comparable to the pain of murdering your only child and blaming it on her child?” A strong wind rose up from around Xia’s feet. Her eyes blazed brightly, and her breathing became ragged. “You-you fiend! Demon! LIAR!”
An icy shiver rocked Marianna almost off her feet. She stumbled backward, stopping dangerously close to the edge of the raised platform they were standing on. “You are much to young to understand the sacrifices involved in this,” Marianna admonished the young woman. “You have no idea-”
“Save your useless words for one who cares of that which you speak,” Xia growled. “I must weep tears of relief, knowing that I am not responsible for the death of my mother, but not at this moment. No, this moment belongs to revenge. Sweet, sweet revenge.”
The Other pulled herself to her full height. “Cease this nonsense at once!” She invoked the spell that would bring Xia to her knees gasping for breath. Xia felt the air thin and turn cold, and countered by wrapping herself in a cushion of warmth. Marianna, seeing her spell fail, took another step backward. “Stop, Xian. I have commanded you. Stop!”
“That doesn’t work anymore, Marianna Iskandra.” Xia’s eyes changed shape as she spoke, and her body lengthened. Her nails grew long and curved toward her palms. “You no longer have the right.” Her words turned to hisses through her protruding fangs.
The Child laughed, the clear sound ringing through the temple. “My heir, my hair, my heir is truly born!” She turned to address the stunned crowd, who were positioned in various stages between prostration and running away. “Do you see what I see when I see?” She giggled. “It is coming, it is. The Final Mark. Oh, the Blessed One has come! Look! Do you not see it struggle to break free from the shackles The Other placed upon it? Look! Watch with me, the birth of my heir.”
Xia’s body rippled and twisted, shredding the thin material draped around her. A dark outline appeared on her back, sending droplets of blood rolling toward the floor to pool at her feet.
“This cannot be!” Marianna protested. “Iskandra was-”
“Only the vessel,” finished The Child. “Xian is The One.” She clapped her hands and danced happily. “My heir, my heir, my very own heir!”
“No,” Marianna whispered.
“Yessss,” Xia hissed, as a wet tearing sound filled the air.