Enemy

•March 3, 2011 • 1 Comment

Gods, he was strong.

The hand clenched around her throat was making it difficult to think, choking her to death as surely as the wind rustled through the leaves in the building storm. Her dress whipped around her legs, suspended three feet above the ground as that iron hold left her dangling helplessly. She gasped, clawing at his forearm, but the dead eyes that stared back were blank, empty.

Black clouds rolled in above, threatening rain and flashing lightning-nature’s response to her own roiling emotions as her life slowly drained away. Spots began to dance across her vision, threatening darkness and blotting out the world with white patches like ink spills. She wanted to scream-to cry, and kick, and tear until the recognition returned to that distant gaze-but her fingers were growing too weak to clutch, her only goal becoming the desperate need for air in her lungs and one piercing thought.

I am not your enemy!

He had been gone for almost a month when he stumbled back into the town, bleeding and half-dead, mumbling about monsters and being followed in his dreams. His recovery had been slow, wounds refusing to heal the way they should with scars that would never fade. It looked as though he had been torn into by the monsters he raved about, but after the first week he refused to talk about it. His eyes were haunted, but sharp.

And then…

She had woken to flames and screaming, the roof coming down around her and his tall, blocky frame looming over her with that dead expression. He did not seem to feel the heat, but a beam coming down across his shoulders was enough to let her run before he could grab her. She had fled then, out of her burning house and out into the fields beyond, forcing herself to ignore the crumpled bodies strewn through the village streets.

He had caught her.

The stone at her back was slowly growing colder. She could not longer feel her fingers, all her attention narrowing on his face. She remembered his smile, bright and easy, eyes crinkling at the corners so that he looked older than his years. There was nothing left of that man before, only a shell who sought to kill.

I am not you enemy!

The world went dark.

Taste

•March 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

It was all part of the job.

Warm body, soft mouth, firm hands… All part of the job.

The night was frigid for late spring, leaving her cold even as she pulled her fleece-lined coat closer around her shoulders and wished that home were closer than the two blocks she still had to walk. She had an old buick parked two streets over from her apartment, but unless she was going beyond the boundaries of the city she preferred to use the subway–the problem being the closest line was seven blocks away.

He had surprised her, tasting like smoked hickory (she fully intended to ask about that later). They had been walking shoulder to shoulder, eyes on everything but each other as passersby trickled past them. She had not seen the threat, hadn’t even known something was wrong until she felt his hands in her hair and her back against the rough brick of a building. His mouth had silenced her before she’d had a chance to protest, and it was only later that she had understood why. It was one hell of a kiss. All part of the job.

Her breath came in short puffs of white as she walked, painting the darkness in false light. She was supposed to be the senior officer but he had proved his five years as an undercover, sensing the trap before she’d led them both right into it. They’d been expecting cops, not a horny couple making out in the shadows. Moments later, they had both suspects cuffed and mirandized, police pouring into the alley from all sides. It had been his quick thinking that got them the sting and kept her from a bullet between the eyes.  All business, a great partner.

She smiled ruefully at the memory as she rounded the final corner, keys jangling loudly in her hand as she climbed the stairs to her front door. She did not expect the steaming cup thrust into her line of vision.

“Thought you could use it,” he rumbled, a smirk coloring his words. She looked up from her keys and matched the smug look with one of her own. Oryn was tall and dark, face covered in a rough layer of stubble that he did nothing to control, all sharp, chiseled lines. When he wore jeans and a t-shirt he looked like the perfect candidate to bomb a national monument and enjoy it.

“Car?”

He shrugged casually, sipping his own coffee as she tested hers. Caramel latte. The man was a god. “I keep telling you they’re useful. Your face looks like a five-year-old took a red sharpie to it.” Gods were jerks.

“I was going to ask you if you wanted to come inside, you asshole, but now I think I’ll just leave you out here.” She brushed past him and slid the key into the lock before a heavy hand landed on her forearm.

“Allie, about tonight–”

“Don’t worry about it, Oryn. It’s just the job.”

“I went too far. Sting or not, I took advantage of the situation.”

“You did what you had to.” She shifted so she could look him in the eye, smiling knowingly. “We all get caught up in the job once in awhile.”

His mouth was tight with something he wasn’t saying, but the moment stretched into awkward silence neither was willing to break. It was only when he released her arm that she realized she was holding her breath.

Almost instantly, she felt a wicked smile cross her lips. “Do you know that you taste like smoked wood?” He followed her inside with a wry shake of his head.

String

•February 28, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The house was old, perhaps twice as ancient as the woman who lived there. It stood precariously on a hill in full sight of miles of farmland and forest, the tallest peak in four counties with no other house in sight, balancing in a plateau of land barely wide enough to span beneath half the foundation. Miraculously, the house itself neither sagged nor cracked despite the fact that none of its four corner actually touched solid ground. Every time Renna stepped onto the narrow wooden porch, she wondered whether the structure would choose that moment to shudder and collapse into kindlewood.

Miriam Ravenoak was an old, mad woman who lived alone with two cats and a dog the size of a small horse. Renna was charged with ‘keeping an eye’ on the decrepit bag in return for the meager allowance her mother gifted her with every week, all five dollars that she was carefully and shrewdly saving beneath a loose floorboard in her bedroom; eventually she would have enough to buy a bus ticket to the city. At fifteen, it was the equivalent of gnawing on her arm in order to escape the bear trap.

Approaching the house for the third time that week, she started to climb the white, peeling steps only to stop when confronted by a canine head easily as big as her own, long jowls vibrating with a rumbled greeting. The first time she had heard Achilles growl, Renna had about peed her pants; now she knew better, hearing the thump of a whip-like tail as it wagged happily in greeting. The great dane was a monster even for its breed, standing almost to eye-to-eye with the teenager and weighing what she could only guess was close to two hundred pounds (she hoped to never find out, because the mutt would win that contest hands down), black as fresh pitch in the heat of summer. But for all that the beast looked like he should have torn her face off, Achilles would probably let her use him like a punching bag and never think the worse for it. She guessed that the effect was enough for a dog like that upon intruders.

“Ah, Renna, you’ve come just in time. I’m refreshing the wards in the house today. I’ll need a young body to clean the high places I can’t reach anymore.” Miriam was neither young nor beautiful in her age, but she stood straight as a board and had eyes that could stare through iron and make it melt. She walked with a purpose, broom in one hand and red string in the other, thrusting the latter at the girl so that Renna was forced to take the colored twine, all the while eyeing the glittering ornaments that she saw dangling through the glass of the windows. She would not enjoy this particular visit.

Miriam kept chimes, in every window, through every doorway. If there was an opening into the house, there was a chime christening the entry. Renna had once asked after the chimes, and the response had been the strangest reply she had ever received.

“To keep the Others out, of course. Can’t have such things stealing my Whelks, now can I?” She’d had to ask her mother to learn that a whelk was snail, and as far as she had seen Miriam owned nothing of the sort. When she’d questioned further the old woman had merely brushed her confusion aside with a swat of her hand, as though she were being ignorant of what was common knowledge. Renna had not asked again. Unfortunately, every few months the ‘wards’ required cleaning and rehanging.

“Today? It looks like it’s going to rain–”–there wasn’t a cloud in the sky”–we probably shouldn’t work with the windows open with a storm coming.”

“Even more reason to have them done, child. The Others love the weather, they’ll be all over the house after those rains role through. Didn’t your mother teach you anything?” It was like arguing with a brick wall–the wall was going to win.

Despite a particularly disgusted sigh as she rolled up her sleeves, fifteen minutes later the teenager found herself standing on a rickety chair inside the house, fighting with the chimes above one of the windows even as she swore she felt the house tip the further to one side she leaned.

She only hoped the non-existent storm would come sooner rather than later and cut the string of obligation she found herself dangling upon, the crazy old woman her deranged puppeteer. The chimes tinkled in her hand as the first clouds rolled into view.

Sunset

•February 24, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The sunset was a golden halo at her back, blackening the surrounding city as though the walls had been covered in a fine soot and it was only the radiance of such a woman that could brighten a dismal place. In reality, the white marble walls were more brilliant than the blue silk dress with its golden embroidery inlaid upon the bodice, welcoming the deepening darkness with defiance.

She was poised against the backdrop of the city, eyes distant as she peered across the water at him without truly seeing. The street she stood upon was bare of people or carts, leaving a clear path from the very heart of the citadel where they stood to the farthest gate at the west end. Around her shoulders the towers rose in great spires, piercing the sky where they ended in sharp points talls enough that one had to crane to look, yet if a stranger had stood beside him and seen the same sight, that man’s eyes would be drawn only to the blue-clad woman.

This was her city. He was the intruder here.

“My Lady,” he greeted softly. The water of the lake lapped at his ankles where he had waded across and stopped just short of the shore. Moralyth was a place where permission was paramount to entering, lest a man wish to walk away less his pride–or worse. She seemed to stare through him, over him, behind him; anywhere but at him until he spoke, upon which colorless, unnatural eyes sharpened unnervingly upon his face and did not waver. He wondered sometimes if she actually could see, but whether there was sight in her eyes, the Lady of Moralyth always Saw.

“Aleith. You come again.” Knowing. It was never a question. “I can offer you no more than I have in recent visits.”

He smiled wryly, sighing, “I know, Lady. I wish only to walk among your walls as I have in the past.” Aleith watched with patience as a frown flashed across her smooth, ageless face, those clear eyes reflecting puzzlement.

“You wish a walk?”

“I do.”

She hesitated, the confusion palpable. She was ancient, wise, but Aleith knew that great age often drew the humanity from the very core of a person. The Lady no longer understood the pleasure of a walk. To her, there was only the Watch.

“Come.”

She stepped aside, and it was as though the doors had been thrown wide, the city bared to the light of the setting sun. Light poured and danced across stone, spilling into crevasses and banishing the blackness, clearing the soot to reveal brilliant white so clean that the sun was thrown away from its surface as though from the strongest shield. Bathed in that warmth and brightness, Aleith closed his eyes and smiled as one bare foot stepped upon the heated stone, letting the light flood over him and wreath him in sunset.

Traffic

•February 14, 2011 • Leave a Comment

“She’s not like you, Takeru,” he drawled, sharp eyes gazing out amidst a deceptively casual stance. He was leaning against a brick wall in one of the narrow city alleys, eyes fixed across the void flowing with human and mechanical traffic alike. She was like a beacon amidst the masses. “She’ll fade away eventually, even if you have her for the moment. She can’t last the way you want her to.”

“I know.”

Takeru had always been quiet, but in their time apart Ragan mused that he had all but become a wraith, floating from space to space and blinking in and out where he pleased. His only warning was the unmistakable presence that was near-impossible for the other man to suppress. He paused, considering his friend as the dark-haired professor took over the vigil he had held upon the girl in question. Takeru was more than taken with her; he was in love with her. Love was dangerous for men like them, especially when the gray-eyed man was all but concerned about how much truth she knew.

A year apart, and this is what he came home to. His oldest friend, who so many years ago had been as blazing as the once-silver of his eyes, was now a faded memory of his former self. Somewhere over the years Takeru’s flame had been dampened to a mere flicker, and now he was in love was a girl who would drag him further into anonymity.

“You can’t stay with her.” It was as much a command as a statement, but it caused a flicker within those eyes that had Ragan’s spirit lifting at the hint of a challenge.

“Is that an order, fukushou?” Takeru inquired, deadly-quiet. Those gray eyes glinted with a metallic sheen, observing Ragan all too calmly without ever looking away from his intended target. The girl was perched on top of a city bench, waiting for her bus and reading a book as the traffic swirled and flowed around her, oblivious to the wolf’s eyes upon her.

Ragan weighed his options against that gaze. How slow could a man become after three hundred years? “I never said I stopped training.” Against his will, Ragan felt the casual set of his shoulders turn rigid, feeling as hunted as the girl for a fleeting moment.

A wolf was always a wolf.

“You can’t stay with her,” he said again, softer but still insistent. That gaze eased only a touch, returning to the plain woman with her waves of dark hair and bright eyes.

“I know,” Takeru echoed his earlier response, settling against the wall beside Ragan.

Across the street, the city bus screeched and came to a stop. When it, too, entered the traffic, the girl was gone as well. Both men remained, cradled in the safety of the alley where life’s traffic could not reach them.

Belief

•February 11, 2011 • Leave a Comment

She is stronger than him. Not in will, or character, or conviction. Not in heart, nor determination. Her legs carry her no less quickly, her eyes see no more sharply, her ears hear as fairly. It is in belief that she outmatches him: belief that a feeling so strong it can move hands and minds and mouths, change realities and shape decisions, can be more important than all the dangers that its advent might bring.

She is stronger, because her beliefs become her armor and her weapons, her great war steed to ride out to battle upon. Every touch of emotion is jeweled upon her sword, reflected off the the strength of her thrust where enemies may fall. She is strong, because she accepts that she loves, and she builds foundation upon those beliefs where he refuses to even sketch their outlines for fear they may one day crumble.

She is stronger than him, but only because she has embraced what he still yet fears, and in that strength she also believes that one day he will rise to meet her challenge.

He has yet to disappoint her, after all.

Benign

•February 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Ten years was a long time to be Bound to one person, but he had always thought it made them stronger. They moved seamlessly, anticipating thought and word, sensing danger a mile apart. They no longer needed to speak to know what the other needed, magic and power flowing as seamlessly as though they were one person. They were the best.

He’d missed it.

It must have been slow at first, the faintest crack in her facade… but it had grown, until it became like shattered bone sliding together. At least, those were the words she put to it.

“You’re leaving.” He could not bring himself to make it a question and she did not take it as such. He imagined that a woman in her position should look small, meek, broken… but Eomoire had never been any of those things, and she was not now. She just looked… resolute. Tired, maybe.

“Not completely.”

“You requested the Severing.”

She looked away from him then, eyes fixing on a point on the floor, memory stirring with a past she had never told him about. A day ago, he had not thought such a thing possible; he had believed they knew everything about the other.

Truth was an unforgiving tutor. She had lied. For years, she had lied.

“Will you be okay?” he asked, deceptively light as he lowered himself to sit beside her. She turned even further away from him. It was an effort to keep a straight face, the motion tearing a part of his life away as the Severing would the Bond.

“With time, maybe. I did much of this damage myself. I buried my scars for too many years, Leth, thinking that cancerous growth benign. I deceived you as well as myself, and now I must pay this debt. My regret is that I’ve injured you with my selfishness.” A part of him wanted to agree with her: the wounded, human part. The part that was Koruma knew the Severing was her only option, that it was his duty to stand by her decision.

The Bond was a burden as much as it was a gift: an agreement between two powerful forces, Koruma and Ellia Lorai. Lorai alone were a force of nature, mystics who could summon hurricanes and gentle earthquakes with a thought, but the abilities they wielded were chaotic, changing and warping as easily as the weather they inflenced. Without an anchor, Lorai destroyed themselves. Koruma were the ballast and the shield, teaching control and tempering the Lorai with a psychological manipulation branded ‘Taming’. Unfortunately, the Bond was so intimate that many Lorai chose to shift through Koruma so that they would never form a close enough relationship to further fragment the already precarious control over their gifts. Emotions were dangerous to the Lorai.  

He should have seen it.

Ten years, and he had missed the decay of the Ellia Lorai left in his care. “Do not think on anything but your own recovery.”

She smiled at him then, a wistful quirk of the lips, dark hair framing her face in the early evening light. A hand rose against his better judgement and touched her cheek with gentle fingers.

“May you never be Tamed.”

 
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