QSFer AY Venona has a new bi/non-binary dark fantasy out: “Shackled.”
All your life you are promised a gift from a god. Your divine sponsor, they say. You attend the academy where the gods can easily observe you. And when you turn 21 years old, they send you to the temple built on top of the mountain. But when you enter the House of the Gods to claim the gift you are promised since your birth, you discover the true face of your destiny. Hint: It looks so much like your worst nightmare, but also feels like how it is living your dream.
This is how it is in the life of Rustin Andi. Will he embrace his destiny regardless of its monstrosity?
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven…” –Lucifer in Paradise Lost.
This book is part of DARKLY MINE -SEASON 1. Each novel can be read as a standalone and contains a dark m/m romance.
I stood—or more like hid, if I were to be honest with myself—behind a column where lived vines coiled around it, like a dragon serpent wearing a flower crown. My heart still hammered in my chest as though it were building an indestructible fortress. Ah, a fortress. I wish to build one myself. I pressed my ear against the surface of the column and heard the sound I’d been yearning for since I had gotten back from the kitchen: silence.
I took a deep breath and made tentative steps forward. One step, two steps, and then I ran like a bull on fire.
“Stop!” hollered the familiar voice behind me.
As if the word itself were a spell, I stopped and turned around to face he who had made my life in the academy miserable.
He was not cruel to me before. To be more specific, last year my presence was inconsequential to him. Then when I became a junior, everything changed. I became an anathema to the whole race of omegas. I was not exaggerating. He really described me as the anathema.
“Where are you going?” he asked. His gaze reflected cruelty to its highest notch. His friends crowded around him as though he were their Alpha, which prompted me to think Willie—that’s what I secretly called him—was misclassified. He behaved more like an alpha than an omega.
Yes, alpha. Not.
“To my quarters.” My voice hinted no quivers. I made sure of it.
His eyes narrowed. “So this is how you want to play it? Okay, let’s have it. When you reach your quarters, what are you going to do next?”
“Sleep,” I answered with confidence, hoping I gave him the correct answer.
Willie’s gaze could pierce even a dragon’s skin. His friends chuckled. Willie advanced toward me. I, on the other hand, was rooted to my spot. I held the precious items in my hands tighter, only to be snatched away. By him, of course. As usual.
“Then why are you carrying these?” He held them up for everyone to see, and with so much disgust in both his eyes and his voice, he continued, “A knitting needle and a pink yarn.”
“I can make you a hat with that,” I said, thinking offering a gift might tame his ruthless heart. Despite his cruelty to me, I would surely knit him a hat. Willie was a pretty omega, and it would look good on him.
“I’ve told you so many damn times to stop this disgusting hobby of yours,” he said. With the intensity he regarded my stuff, I couldn’t help but wonder why they were still not aflame. “You strut through the hallway like a peacock made of rainbows, offering everybody a knitted hat, or gloves—”
“I’m not making a profit off it, I swear, only because I’m still practi—”
“I’m not finished!”
Silence followed his words like nature itself stopped to listen to him throw a tantrum.
Articulating every word, he continued, “You are not allowed to knit ever again.”
“But I love knitting.”
His friends laughed.
He did not.
“You’re a blight to our race,” he said as he pushed me to the wall and pinned me with his cold stare. “Omega is a mighty race that the society is still grappling to understand. But here you are. Instead of showing them who we really are, you’re behaving exactly the way they think we are—slutty and weak.”
“I’m not a slut!” I quickly replied. “And knitting does not make me weak.”
They laughed again. They sure were happy today.
“You’re really stupid,” he said. “Knitting is associated with omegas only being good at making babies. I’ve had enough of you. So listen very carefully because I’m not repeating this again. Every time I see you with these, I’m going to burn them like this.”
He stared at my precious yarn with his cold serpent-like gaze until it burned and then discarded it. I was quickly on my knees, trying to salvage any piece of it. But it was too late. It left me nothing but ashes. My desperate cry was drowned by their laughter. After throwing me one final warning look, he sprinted away with his friends down the hallway, and back to where they came from. My knitting needle he kept for himself.
Feeling like I had been mauled by ten lions, I walked in the direction of my room. My cry trailed behind me, echoing in the hallway. Willie once told me not to cry. I cried, anyway, just to spite him. I hoped the gods could hear me.
I closed the door to my quarters and sat down on the bed. Each omega had identical quarters: one double bed, a bathroom, and a small sitting area whose purpose was wasted on most omegas who preferred spending more of their time in the training arena than in their room.
But I was not like them. I had a plan for that sitting room—and one I should have been doing now had Willie and his crew not thwarted it. Despite how time-consuming the omega education was, I had been able to steal some extra time for myself and my hobby, which Willie loathed so much.
What’s wrong with it? He may have succeeded in destroying my materials today, but they could not stop me from doing what I wanted to do. And he, Willie, could suck my toe.
I got up and changed into my sleeping clothes, loose silky breeches and a shirt. Lying on the bed, I decided to spend some more time thinking about the best way to hide my knitting materials from Willie. Next week, more knitting supplies would arrive. My mother would send what I needed every two weeks. Thinking about it made me smile. Simple things like that made me happy. In fact, I felt better already.
I woke up to the sound of the bell tolling for our breakfast. I got up and almost tripped over what looked like a knitted ball made from strips of clothes. Did I ruin a few of my shirts again? But I had no time to think about it, so I ran toward the bathroom and had a quick shower—though I made sure that I washed my hair carefully.
We omegas have almost identical haircuts. Until we are 21 years of age, shoulder-length hair is what we are all allowed to wear. I don’t mind it. I love my hair.
Smirks and a few eye-rollings were thrown my way when I entered the hall one minute past the expected arrival time. I glanced around the already-packed hall to look for an empty seat.
I turned to where I heard my name spoken and laid my gaze on Astrig, the only omega friendly to me.
“I saved you a seat,” he said, beckoning me to the chair beside him.
I smiled and made my way to him. “Thanks.”
He smiled back, which only lasted a second as a new expression graced his face: eyes gaping like he had seen a throng of gods enter the hall. He rose from his seat. It took me a couple of seconds before I realized that all the students were on their feet. Well. Except me.
I trained my gaze where everybody’s attention fell and caught the tail end of the faculty’s ceremonial entrance into the hall. Wondering why the entire faculty decided to join our normal breakfast, I hastily rose to my feet, thereby knocking over the chair next to me and consequently breaking the silence. This attracted unwanted attention.
A chorus of chuckles reverberated against the walls.
“Silence!” Headmaster Greylo said.
Since he is a sorcerer like most of the members of the faculty, I assumed he cast a voice-amplification spell to make his voice loud and clear.
We omegas do not use spells. We can control the elements when we reach 21 years old—albeit on paper. Practical application of such affinity is not as easy as it sounds, or the way I like it to be.
I watched as the headmaster continued talking.
“Today is the first day of our week-long preparation for the next Gifting rite. And as customary, the Omega Academy will open its door to the alphas from the Alpha Academy, and the officers from the different Forts and agencies. As for today’s feast, we dedicate it to deity Freyrick. You may now begin eating.”
As soon as my ass hit the chair, I reached out for the nearest fried chicken serving plate and grabbed myself a few pieces.
“Aren’t you nervous at all?” Astrig said after I finished my first drumstick.
“You know what.”
I stared at the box of ice cream now being served on the table. They only served ice cream during special occasions. Without taking my eyes off the object of my new fixation, I replied, “I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”
He sighed and said, “The Gifting rite.”
“So you’re not nervous at all that next weekend will be the Gifting rite where all omegas who turned 21 this year will be given an armlet?”
I shifted my gaze to him. “Not really.”
“You know what the armlet is, right? It will be worn forever.”
I put four scoops of ice cream in my bowl while deliberating if I should add more.
“Yes, I know.”
“They’ll be given by a god to omegas who turns 21 this year.”
It did not escape my notice his emphasis on the words ‘god’ and ‘21.’ I dug my spoon into the sweet pile.
“Yes, I know,” I said, positioning the spoon near my mouth.
“You’re 21. So you’ll get one next weekend, an armlet you’ll be wearing for all eternity.”
I sneaked a glance across Willie’s table. He and his friends went through the Gifting rite last year. Other than their sudden change of attitude and strange ‘fondness’ of me, they seemed to come out of it unscathed.
“I’m sure I’ll be fine,” I said and fed myself a spoonful of ice cream.
It was cold and creamy, and melted in my mouth so deliciously I yearned for more.
“Aren’t you going to finish that first?” Astrig said.
I gazed down on my forgotten plate full of fried chicken. Between it and the ice cream, it was an easy choice. The ice cream would always come on top. However, if my stare lingered longer on the plate it was not because I had second thoughts. I was just merely curious. Because right in the plate, almost hidden among the pieces of perfectly crisped bird, was a rolled piece of paper.
A.Y. Venona loves both science and literature. She is fascinated by all the myths and different cultural lores and seeks to deconstruct them by looking into their science and the possibility of them to be lost in the politics of translation–because she is a skeptic with imagination. She has a few theories in her head, but she can’t write an equation, so she uses the only medium she knows–fiction.