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"It's Like the Universe is Twisting the Knife": A Carve the Mark Deleted Scene
and some thoughts on vulnerability
I write short, so I don’t usually have a lot of deleted scenes to offer. The ones I do have usually contain so many different character names, place names, drastically re-ordered events, etc., that it’s difficult to share them without overburdening you with explanations. But when I thought about what deleted scenes I might share from Carve the Mark— which, unlike all my other books, actually has a lot of deleted material— this scene was the first one to come to mind.
It’s a bit of an odd one. For a scene that’s supposed to depict the start of Cyra and Akos’s slow burn (slow thaw?) romance, it includes something kinda un-sexy: a girl getting her period.
I don’t know how it is for other people, but for me, periods have always been an intense monthly intrusion, both absurdly painful and unpredictable. It’s strange to me to think that such a huge part of my experience of having a body is so private, both because of my natural inclinations toward privacy and because the world makes people feel gross and even alien for having periods. So when I thought about Cyra’s pain, and when I thought about the complicated relationship she has with her body because of it, and the occasions on which she most felt the loss of the only kind person she’d ever had in her life— her mother— this moment seemed like the obvious choice.
And as for the romantic opportunities it offered, well. I know it’s not going to make it into many romcom scripts or anything, but I find this scene to be pretty sweet. Cyra isn’t someone for whom vulnerability comes naturally, but her body betrays her in this moment, and she braces herself for Akos’s scorn, or perhaps for him to treat her as alien and strange…and he doesn’t. He has every reason to be unkind to her at this stage, but he treats her like a person, instead. Which is revolutionary for Cyra, since she’s only ever been treated like a monster.
So why did I cut it? Well, I think it was partly for pacing— I needed to speed things along at this point in the book— and partly because I needed to be deliberate about how Cyra was unlearning all her father and brother’s brainwashing, and and how her understanding of Akos was shifting over time— so this scene just hit the wrong note at the wrong time.
(art by Mindy Lee)
Two days before I turned sixteen, and four days before we were supposed to board the sojourn ship for Akos’s first sojourn, I woke to blood spotting the sheets beneath me. My mother had told me about this day, a long time ago, before I was old enough to understand what she meant by any of it. Something about ebbs and flows and a message relayed from organ to organ. But all I could think of were the days when I still wet the bed. That my body could do something that I wasn’t aware of while I was sleeping, and that I would have to clean up after myself like I was still a child, was somehow humiliating.
And my mother was supposed to be here to help me. To tell me again about the power of this step forward through life. But she was dead.
Akos walked in when I was still standing at the edge of my bed, staring at the red spot like it was my mother’s own blood, the sign of her murder. My face heated up, and I blinked away tears.
I covered my face. “Get out.”
“Should I get someone?” he said, quietly.
“Who?” I demanded. “My brother? Vas? You think they would be helpful?”
Then I sat on the edge of the bed and cried. I hadn’t cried in a long time, not really. Just the kind of tears that appeared in your eyes when you were in pain. But suddenly I didn’t care if Akos saw me this way, I didn’t care if it made me look weak. I didn’t care about anything.
I felt his hands on my shoulders, and I meant to shove him away, but I was frozen.
“Come on,” he said. He took my arm, at first, holding me by the armor I wore strapped to my arm even in my sleep. Then his hand slipped down to mine, stalling my gift, and he pulled me toward the panel in the wall that led to the servants’ passage. He slid it open, and ducked inside.
In the dark, I wasn’t as worried about the ache in my abdomen and the sheets I had left behind. We descended a staircase, took a few turns, and reached an open wall panel in the kitchen.
“Stay here, I’ll get someone,” he said.
“Otega,” I said. “Ask for Otega.”
I stayed back, in the shadows, while he disappeared into the bustle of the kitchen staff. I could still see them from this angle, chopping ingredients for breakfast and lunch, arguing about whose turn it was to carry the tray to Ryzek’s room. I heard them refer to me, too: “Miss Noavek probably needs her kitchen restocked.” “Is it just me, or is she eating twice as much these days?” “It’s not for her, it’s for Kereseth.” “Ooh, Kereseth. What wouldn’t I give to know what that’s about.”
I blushed again.
“What did you say about me?” Akos’s voice sounded, deep and steadier than it had been when I first met him.
“Nothing, kezagyang,” one of the voices replied. The word was harsh slang for one of the Reclaimed, co-opted from the Pithar words for “paper” and “skin.” Some of our language, like much of our technology, was scavenged.
“You use my name in conversation, you’d better be sure it’s not for ‘nothing’,” Akos retorted.
I raised my eyebrows.
Silence fell over the kitchen, and Akos ducked into the passage again. Following him was Otega—older now than when she had braided my hair, but still sturdy as she had been when I was young, and stern as the Shotet came. She nodded to me as Akos took my hand again, snuffing out the currentshadows that had gone into a frenzy at the sight of her.
“Well,” Otega said, from behind us. “That confirms that rumor, at least.”
“Rumor?” I said.
“That he can touch you without wanting to die,” Otega said.
A brutal way of putting it. “What other rumors are there?”
“Better that you don’t trouble yourself with them,” Otega said. “There’s nothing you can do to stop them anyway. Shotet mouths are busier than most, especially when it comes to favored lines and Reclaimed survivors.”
“Reclaimed,” Akos said, harshly, from the front of our little line. “I hate that word.”
“Which one do you prefer?” Otega said. “I’ll use that instead.”
“How about ‘Victim of Kidnapping’,” Akos said. “Or ‘Speaker of the Accursed Tongue’.”
“Accursed Tongue.” Otega snorted. “You spontaneously speak a language without having to learn it, and you call it a curse? That curse is your birthright, boy.”
We reached the open panel, and Otega marched into the room and ripped the sheets off the bed in one swift motion. I turned to Akos, dried tears making my cheeks tight.
“Thank you,” I said. “I should have been able to deal with this myself.”
Akos just shrugged. “When my sister turned thirteen, my dad had a long talk with all of us. There were diagrams involved.” He tilted his head a little. “It’s hard to go through things a parent is supposed to help with when you don’t have a parent. It’s like the universe is twisting the knife.”
I let that statement— the truth of it— hang between us for a few seconds. I was looking at him, and he was looking at me, and it wasn’t strange.
“What’s your sister’s name?” I said.
“Cisi,” he replied. “Cisi.”
Her name came from a tight throat, spoken with such longing I felt it in my own chest.
“Cisi,” I repeated, with a sharp nod, trying to match his accent. “I’ll remember.”
“All right,” Otega said, as she charged back into the room, dusting off her hands. “You and I need to have a talk, Miss Noavek. Kereseth, out.”
Akos’s hand lifted, hesitant, to rest just above my elbow. My pain disintegrated at his touch. His fingers were warm, and gentle, and then gone.
He walked into the next room. Before he closed the door between us, we exchanged a smile. Small. Tentative.
That was a little short, so how about a bonus scene? If you voted for the “shorter, softer” option on Instagram, the following scene will probably scratch that itch a little better. :)
In this little piece of a draft, I had Akos and Cyra find out that their mothers switched them at birth in the first book, right before they confront Ryzek in the arena. But I realized I was trying to cram too much into the first installment, so I delayed that revelation to the second book in the series, The Fates Divide, to give it more room to breathe.
(Also, in earlier drafts, Cyra’s currentgift got worse around Akos because she was attracted to him. Hot? No? Lol.)
But here it is!
(art by Gabriel Picolo)
I crossed the room, and opened the door next to the bed. Akos had unlocked it when we came in, so he could get into his room. I didn’t knock. I liked catching him off-guard—it always showed me more than I got to see otherwise. Showed me what he was like when there were no eyes on him, when nothing was expected of him at all.
He stood at the dresser, tugging the armor over his head. His windows were open, letting in the cool air and the sound of shouting and music from the street below. His room was more sparse than mine, long and narrow, with a slim bed between the windows. Along the far wall, was a metal countertop with burners at the far end and shelves suspended above it. Jars of hushflower in all its forms stood on the shelves, marked with Akos’s Thuvhesit scrawl. Dangling from the ceiling were pots, pans, knives, and vials, glowing with fenzu light from the little lamps that hung every few feet.
“You okay?” I said.
He didn’t look back. “Not really.”
“I say, fuck them,” I said. “Our parents are liars. Fuck them.”
He pulled his shirt over his head, and I stepped back, pushing the door closed behind me. He turned at the sound. I felt the shadows burning across my throat like a blush as I looked over his narrow waist. The bruises that had stained his skin the last time I saw him, cowering on the floor in the basement, were faded now, light brown and green. He wore new scars on his left arm and a new weight on his shoulders.
I pressed my hands to my cheeks, briefly, willing myself to calm down. “Dammit,” I said.
But he was moving toward me—cautiously, at first, one step at a time. Frowning, a crease between his eyebrows. The closer he came, the darker and more frantic the shadows became, until I had to bite my tongue so I wouldn’t cry out at the pain.
I flinched, and at the first outward sign of my pain, he pressed a hand to my cheek, extinguishing the currentshadows so all I had left was the pulse in my face and my hands and the deep ache in my stomach, the ache that was just for him.
“No,” I said, sharply, slapping his hand away. “You can’t do things like that to me. Not when there’s no hope of anything behind them.”
“Well,” he said, “what if there was hope?”
My hands went flat and limp against the door. He took his hand away from my cheek, and the shadows were just a dull stain on my arms.
“What?” I finally said.
He reached for me, to quiet the currentgift, and I snapped, “Leave it.”
“I can’t talk to you when you’re in pain—”
“Yes you can, just tell me what you meant!”
“I meant exactly what I said!” He threw up his hands in frustration. “I meant that you were a Noavek, and loving you meant betraying my country, but now…you’re a Kereseth and you’re sending me home even when it causes you agony, and when they told you your own mother sent you to live with Lazmet Noavek as an infant your first instinct was to comfort me!” He stared at me, incredulous, eyes wide. “I told you that everything had changed, Cyra. I meant it.”
A strange ferocity came into his eyes, and he pressed closer to the door, framing my face with his forearms. Only a sliver of space separated us. He was so close I could feel his warmth. He was so close I could taste his breaths.
He dropped his hand to my waist, to the strip of skin just beneath the hem of my shirt. Then he bent his head and kissed me.
I had intended the first time I kissed him to be the last. He could never love me, I thought, not while I was still a Noavek, with Ryzek’s blood in my veins. It would feel like a betrayal, to him. I understood that, and I had resolved never to let it happen again.
But I was not a Noavek. Ryzek’s blood was not in my veins.
I stayed still, at first. Getting used to him, unyielding mouth and heavy-pressed palm and heat.
Then I put my hands on him. I had thought about touching him hundreds of times, and now it was happening—now I knew how strong his arms were, how his ribs were still right at the surface of his skin. He pulled me closer, his arm wrapping around my back, his hand covering my side, beneath my shirt. Everything was warm and close and muddled for a moment, and then he pressed me against the door again, hard, his teeth closing over my lip. He kissed my throat, hungry and searching.
Someone knocked on the door, right behind my head. I swallowed a curse. He pulled away just far enough to call out, “What is it?”
“How’s the poison coming?” Teka said. “You said it takes a few hours to brew.”
Akos gave me an exasperated look, and I laughed.
We pulled away from the door to open it, and I went to the counter to start chopping the jealousy petals for the poison.
(art by Morgana Wallace)
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