You were born into this. From the first day they swaddled you in scarlet silk blankets, put one of their own into the crib, and stole you crying away into the black stillness of the forest, you have been in a school of previously unknown purpose.
Your eyes, once childish and full of wonder, have matured all too quickly. They’ve roamed books not written to be read, murals not drawn to be viewed; they’ve watched macabre puppet theatres that portray the studied arts of deception.
Your fingers, thick and clumsy compared to theirs, have been trained to work the skeins of falsehood and lies made fabric. In the glow of the phosphorescent toadstool circle the needles flicker and glitter like shooting stars.
Poison has become your tongue. As their emissary you walk the daylight world, chatting and laughing in streetside cafes or talking to colleagues in your office; but inside the guileweave hides a venomous calculus. Every night you lay out the candles and the breadcrumbs and wait.
Today the air is different. The sun still shines, but you feel the chill of invisible clouds passing over its face. And the smell is sharper, like the taste of the dark earth at the foot of a graveyard. Today you know your decades of secret schooling draw to a close, and as the power wells up inside you, you hope that you are ready. There are four circles of judgement in which you may prove your worth as a master of deception.
The first circle is judged ...