Hailed as "a literary fantasist of outstanding power and originality" by Michael Moorcock, Storm Constantine is one of the most exciting and innovative fantasy writers of her generation. The author of many acclaimed works of science fiction and fantasy, she is best known for her daring, stylish and provocative Wraeththu trilogy (The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit, The Bewitchments of Love and Hate, The Fulfilments of Fate and Desire). The series, which chronicled the rise of a new race of seductive androgynous beings with awesome powers, was hailed as a modern fantasy masterpiece, winning an avid international following of devoted readers.
Now, with The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure, Storm Constantine returns once again to the saga of the Wraeththu with a new epic that reveals previously unknown truths about the origins of these remarkable beings.
Long before the Wraeththu assumed total mastery of the Earth and dominion over the dwindling remnants of the human race, they were a wild and passionate people, living in scattered tribes, worshiping strange gods, increasing their numbers by transmuting humans into their own kind. But all that changed on a festival night that surpassed all others, a night when the world changed forever and the Wraeththu began to realize their awesome potential.
It was a time when the archmage Thiede wove the strands of Wraeththu destiny. When two young Wraeththu hara came together to produce a miraculous new life. When Pellaz, a brash and reckless young leader, rose from destruction to take his place in Wraeththu history. And a child called Lileem found a path of passion and power that led to unknown worlds of mystery.
A tale of intrigue and betrayal, bloodshed and pleasure, dark and dangerous supernatural forces, ardent and consuming passions, The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure is a thrilling new chapter in a compelling fantasy epic.
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Storm Constantine has written over twenty books, both fiction and non-fiction and well over fifty short stories. Her novels span several genres, from literary fantasy, to science fiction, to dark fantasy. She is most well known for her Wraeththu trilogy (omnibus edition published by Tor), and is currently at work on a new set of novels set in the world of Wraeththu, beginning with The Wraiths of Will and Pleasure (Tor, 2003). Wraeththu are magical and sensual hermaphroditic beings, who when their story first began, almost twenty years ago, broke startling new ground in the often staid fantasy/sf genres.
Her influences include myth, magic and ancient history and the foibles of human nature. She uses writing and fiction to bridge the gap between mundane reality and the unseen realms of imagination and magic. She strives to awaken perception of these inner realms and the unexplored territory of the human psyche.
Aside from writing, Storm runs the Lady of the Flame Iseum, a group affiliated to the Fellowship of Isis, and is known to conduct group members on tours of ancient sites in the English landscape, in her husband's beat up old army Land Rover. She is also a Reiki Master/Teacher, has recently set up her own publishing company, Immanion Press, to publish esoteric books, and teaches creative writing when she gets the time.
Neil Gaiman, author of the Sandman series, once said: 'Storm Constantine is a mythmaking, Gothic queen, whose lush tales are compulsive reading. Her stories are poetic, involving, delightful, and depraved. I wouldn't swap her for a dozen Anne Rices!'
On the night of the last full moon before the winter solstice, the hara of the desert Wraeththu tribe of Kakkahaar cast off their sand-colored robes and dance naked beneath the stars. It is, for them, the festival of Hubisag, a pitiless hermaphrodite deity of death and dark magic. The Kakkahaar dance around a hungry fire; sparks spiral up into the darkness. Their voices utter mantras to earth and stone. Their fists clench against the sky, then punch the ground. They sway and spin and stamp. Their skins are painted with the blood of sacrifice. They have Medusa hair beneath the moon’s stark light. They are proud and fierce, full of secrets and the mysteries of life, and the knowledge that they are superior among their kind.
It is the most important night of the year, when pledges are made to the god and boons petitioned for. It is not unknown for hara to disappear into the desert before the sun rises and never come out again. Hubisag occasionally takes his own sacrifices. He is not partial to prayers.
But the legends of the Kakkahaar speak of a festival night that surpassed all others. It was the night when the world changed. The world of Wraeththu. Perhaps it was when all hara, whether consciously or not, turned purposefully to approach their own potential, rather than career mindlessly along in wild, ungoverned chaos. In Kakkahaar history, two events happened on this night that brought the tribe closer to Wraeththu destiny than they otherwise might have been.
There were no omens in the sky to herald this change, nor in the entrails of vultures into which the shamans of the tribe peered so closely. There was no warning at all. No one knew that somewhere, far away, other hara of other tribes, who also believed themselves to be superior among their kind, made decisions and consequently pulled threads upon the web of wyrd. A decision. An order. A result. Perhaps without thought for how far the reverberations on the plucked web would be sensed. For those who had eyes to see. For those with eyes inside.
* * *
Ulaume was not Kakkahaar, although he lived among them. In fact, the tribe leader, Lianvis, had bought him some years back, from a traveling band of Colurastes, who had taken care not to mention exactly why they were prepared to sell one of their own into slavery. Lianvis had seen only the surface beauty—he liked pretty, sparkling things—and had perhaps smelled a sense of danger that reminded him very much of himself. The deal had been concluded with almost indecent haste and very little bartering, which even the Colurastes had known was unusual for Kakkahaar. They hadn’t cared about it. They’d simply blessed their gods in silence as the goods changed hands. Then they’d gone
Ulaume knew his people had been relieved and pleased to see the back of him. He bore little resentment. Slavery existed only in the mind. He felt utterly free. Lianvis approved of most of what he did, and actually seemed pleased when Ulaume did something that he could disapprove of, because there was very little Lianvis wouldn’t do himself. From the very first moment he’d looked into Ulaume’s eyes, the Kakkahaar leader had known he wasn’t looking at a slave. It had been an unspoken message, which Ulaume had been very clear about in his silence. Still, they played the game of master and not-master, even though it was only a game, and a darker, more complex relationship existed between them.
The dwelling of Lianvis was a warren of canopies that looked very permanent, although hara of the tribe could dismantle it within an hour, scour the site to eradicate signs of their presence, and melt into the desert as if they’d never been there. The Kakkahaar were adept at illusion.
Ulaume had his own rooms within the pavilion, where the walls were never still, prey to the insidious breezes that breathed sand into every corner. He had a mirror that was exactly his own height and it was very old. Somehar had stolen it from the silent ruins of a rich human’s house and then, sometime later, had sold it to Lianvis, once they’d realized it was actually quite cumbersome to haul around the desert. For this reason, Lianvis had acquired it at a very good price. Its glass was flawless and the frame looked as if it had been designed by an evil witch queen, writhing as it was with smirking demons, which suited both Lianvis’s and Ulaume’s tastes perfectly. Ulaume liked to admire himself in this mirror and Lianvis liked to watch him doing so.
But tonight, Ulaume was alone. He applied scented oil, mixed with his own blood, slowly and languorously to his supple limbs, his body swaying slightly as if he danced to a distant song. And so he did, because he was of the Colurastes, the serpent tribe, and their hearing is more acute than most hara’s. It was the song of the stars Ulaume heard, the song of the moon, calling so softly. All of his senses were especially alert. He could hear the brushwood being dragged across the sand almost a mile from the camp. He could smell the first peppery tang of new flame. This night was important to him because he intended to work a potent curse against somehar who he considered had wronged him. Somehar who had been the cause of the first harsh words Lianvis had ever spoken to him. Somehar who would pay most dearly for their interference, and who would most certainly never forget the name of Ulaume, har of the Colurastes, har of the serpent people.
Ulaume stared at himself in the shadowy glass, his head thrown back, his glance haughty. He smoothed his tawny flanks and tossed his hair, which fell to his knees and possessed properties that hair normally did not have. Sometimes, he had to twist hanks of it fiercely to make it behave. Satisfied with what he saw, Ulaume hissed expressively and made a small pounce toward his reflection. Then he laughed quietly, in utter self-absorbed pleasure. "Pellaz," he said, leaning close to breathe upon the mirror. "Remember me. I wish you the greatest, most exquisite pain."
He leaned his cheek against the glass, then decided he’d had enough self-indulgence and prepared to leave the pavilion for the festival site. Lianvis would already be there, supervising the arrangements. It was supposed to be a wild night of abandonment, but in fact Lianvis planned it very carefully and made sure that nothing was omitted, left at the camp, or overlooked.
Ulaume threw a dun-colored cloak around his shoulders to cover his naked body and padded out into the night. He felt so powerful he was sure his footprints must be smoking, and the sand would turn to glass wherever he trod. Hara would see those footprints in the future and they would say to one another that they were the legacy of the night on which Ulaume of the Colurastes cursed the wretched har, Pellaz. But who was Pellaz? some might ask. A nohar.
It is almost beneath me to do this, Ulaume thought.
Self-righteous fool. Who will ever hear of you, while I, naturally, am destined to be legendary? So, I will make you legendary too, you reeking tower of piety, and you really do not deserve it. Be glad you have offended me.
Cheered by this idea, Ulaume stalked away from the camp, his cloak blowing about him. What a pretty picture of death I must make, he thought.
Other hara were also making their way to the site, although none of them approached Ulaume or appeared even to notice him. This was not deliberate ignorance, but just an acknowledgment of his status. When he led the dance this night, power would surge to the tribe from the cold distant reaches of the universe. When he sang, stars would shatter in distant galaxies. Ulaume had no friends, other than Lianvis, but possessed a horde of helpless admirers, who all feared him greatly. Such had it al
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