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Demiurge

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  1. Demiurge

    Blood Runes

    @headtransplant I know I’ve used this before, but literally me every time you comment
  2. Demiurge

    Snatch

    It was short-lived. The laughter, the feeling of victory, the joy at having Amaris and even Rah back. We made quick work of the little red army and I shook my head. It was almost too easy now. Who did they think we were? I scanned the area around us. The majority of our group was done fighting, leaving the stragglers to Wren. It was the simple pleasures with that one. He catapulted himself around, launching from man to man. I caught Talon’s eye and started making my way to him. He smiled brightly, the left side of his face smeared with blood. I frowned in confusion as his smile fell. Everything slowed down. To my left, Loren was wide-eyed and dropped down. His limbs seemed to move impossibly slow as he ran to me. I looked back to Talon and saw more fear there then I had ever seen. He was running, sprinting across the field, screaming my name. “Kal! Kalian!” Amaris and Eon were yelling too but I wasn’t reacting fast enough. Why were they were so quiet? I turned and lashed out when I felt a presence behind me. I heard a pained grunt but I was forcibly spun back around. Arms clad in deep midnight blue wrapped around me. I struggled but the arms were like steel. One tightened around my waist and the other my shoulders. I kicked my legs out as I was yanked back. If I couldn’t free myself, I needed to buy time. My group was headed for me, coming from almost every direction. I threw my elbow back as hard as I could, sharpening it with my light. I heard a cry and the grip on me loosened. I lunged forward. Talon dove at the same time and I felt his fingertips brush mine. Shadows shot out and wrapped around my wrist and I felt my body pull a bit from the grip that was struggling to reestablish itself. Talon hit the ground hard, wincing at the impact before his eyes found mine again. The attacker had regained their bearings and another set of arms joined the first. They hauled me back and someone kicked Talon hard in the face. I tried to yell for him. My voice cut off as I was jerked back by arms around my stomach, driving the breath from my lungs. A meaty hand clamped over my mouth. My hand was still outstretched. Talon had pushed himself up in time to see me taken. His eyes were so wide and so grey. Filled with a pure and simple fear. The Dlethian landscape fizzled out and my surroundings shifted to a dark room. I was thrown forward. My head smacked a stone wall and I dropped to the ground. My vision blurred. No. I forced myself up and around, staggering forward. Bars. I was in a cell. No, no, no. The door slammed in my face and black irises regarded me coldly. It was a man, the bottom half of his face covered by a black cloth that wrapped around his head as well in a wrapped style. I gripped the bars, my hands lighting. The bars began to let off steam and glow. He watched me for a moment and then reared back. Without hesitating he jammed a familiar thin piece of metal into my shoulder. In almost the same spot I’d taken the last arrow. I backpedaled, lifting my hand to grip the metal shaft. Not fast enough. As soon as I touched the strange metal, I heard a swish and the arrow head’s cruel teeth popped open inside my shoulder. I screamed out and called my light, trying to saw at it before my Magik gave out. I couldn’t remember how fast the poison had worked last time. “Finally. Welcome home. You, my child, have been a far greater thorn in my side than I would have ever anticipated. I wonder if Nainde ever really knew the boy who’s hand he asked for? He thought he was getting a docile little lamb, but instead received a wolf in sheep’s clothing.” A flat laugh and I glared up at Anders smug face, “Do you know how long it took the men to find all his pieces? The Shadow Summoner is nothing if not thorough. I’ll give him that. He must’ve suffered. Of course, Mallex could’ve avoided all of this had he simply followed orders.” “Aren’t you going against your own orders now? I thought you wanted us all dead. Why send soldiers again when you’ve seen over and over that it doesn’t work?” I tried to stand, using the wall for support so he wasn’t looking down on me. “I’m curious. Do you think you won this time?” He tilted his head to side, fingers resting on his chin, “You really believed that I trusted the Illiathian whelp to follow direction? The men were simply a means to an end. Expendable for me to reach my final goal.” “Expendable? Expendable! They’re people! How can you think about people like that? You’re willing to throw them away for your own selfish ambitions?” I was getting dizzier and focusing on the features of his face was growing more difficult. “Of course, kingdoms are built on corpses young lord. Sacrifices must be made. Those men knew that, Captain Nainde knew that, even your Talon knows that.” I could hear my breath coming in pants and my eyes were drooping, “D-Don’t talk about him.” “I look forward to the conversation we will have once you’ve regained consciousness. If you do that is.” I was having a hard time holding my head up. I took a breath and gathered what little power I could feel coursing through my veins. The man in blue lunged for Anders, but the General seemed oblivious. A rather pathetic bolt of light shot out of my fingertips and speared him through the gut. My head fell to my chest and the effort to hold my eyes open became too great. I smiled to myself as I heard blood splash over the ground and the man in blue yell for a healer and the guards. It was the first time I ever heard Anders raise his voice, the words filled with emotion, “Your precious Talon will come for you and when he does, all he will find will be a husk! I didn’t get to finish the Soul Eater. I promise you this, boy, I will take great pleasure in watching the life leave your eyes! Talon will be next and I will be unstoppable!” I heard hurried steps and dragging move up the stairs. Voices reached my ears as the door at the top of the stairs opened. Soon it slammed closed and I was all alone. I relaxed finally. The effort of holding myself was too much in and of itself. Submerged in the dark, I listened to my own rough breathing. I was so hot. The fever was coming and I could barely hold my head up. I reached for that tiny nudging power, hoping to pull his consciousness to me. Stupid. We were stupid. We had our eyes fixed on an enemy hundreds of miles away. Convinced distance would buy us time. We’d completely forgotten that even though we stood on foreign enemy soil, there were still ways for Anders’ long arm to reach us. I didn’t feel him. The connection wasn’t strong enough. I grit my teeth and tried to sit myself up properly. I only succeeded in falling over, my cheek hitting the stone floor hard. “Stupid, stupid, stupid.” *Talon* “Slow down! Just stop for a second! What are you doing? Where are you going?” Arms pulled at my clothes but I refused to stop moving. I was tracking through the people littered over the ground. Where was he? Wren hadn’t finished. There were still men who drew breath here. Ridiculous, gold epaulets drew my attention, and I tore off in that direction. I threw a red blur away from the person I’d been looking for. My eyes weren’t focusing entirely, my vision blurring in and out. “Talon, he’s dead. Loren stomped his head in.” I didn’t know who was talking. I didn’t care. I kneeled. It was an accurate statement. There wasn’t much of a head left. Even so I heard someone approach me. They kneeled and I watched thin white hands block the carnage from my view. Hanja sighed softly, braid flowing over his shoulder. “There’s nothing I can do. I’m sorry. It’s as Amaris said.” My hands dropped to my sides. I stared ahead, unseeing. There had to be something. Some hint. Was the entire force fodder so Anders could have someone snatch him from me when I wasn’t looking? Was it someone else? I brought my hands up slowly, staring down at them. I’d reached him. I’d had him. My Magik had held him. Then I was on the ground, and they were…they were taking him from me. “The head wrap on the male and the face coverings, Amaris?” A voice to my right. “They looked like traditional Tinta garb.” Tinta. Amaris was of Tintan descent, hence her honey skin tone. I stared ahead. Foreign mercenaries. Mercenaries. Anders was collecting them. They weren’t dressed in red though. Anders’ little army wore red. Blue. They wore blue. Dark blue. Did that matter? Tinta and dark blue. Tintan Magik users wore blue. Anything else? Was there anything different about their clothing? Anything distinguishable that pointed to where exactly they came from? “Dleth still trades with them off and on when they don’t hate each other.” Amaris said and I felt a hand rubbing over my shoulders, “Talon? Can you hear me? Hun? You’re bleeding. Tallie? I think your nose is broken.” I heard the words, but they slid over my skin and flopped onto the ground. They held no meaning. I wasn’t feeling anything. There wasn’t pain because there wasn’t anything right now. I kept staring ahead, my eyes burning from the lack of blinking. I’d had him. I’d felt his fingers. I’d had him. “Talon, we can’t stay here. Talon?” “He’s not going to move.” “He has to. Eon, Wren, Loren you guys c’mon.” Loren. Loren. He drew us into this. He knew we’d come for Amaris when we found out he and Rah were under Anders’ influence. He knew. He was part of the attacking force until they’d hurt his feelings. I blinked. A sliver of what I mistook for clarity. It was probably madness. I’d rose to standing, my eyes found him, and I crossed the distance between us in the time it took for everyone but Wren to notice I’d moved. Loren’s eyes were wide as he caught my hands. Something soared through me. It wasn’t Magik. It was darker, cruel, and unforgiving. We were acquainted by now, but I normally tried to ignore it. Not today. Claws extended from my nails and dug into the backs of his hands. I shook my head as my vision blurred, the edges of it spiderwebbing black. My thoughts dimmed as something lulled me into the dark, convincing me it would take care of everything. He had to pay. It would make him. Deal. “Talon! Wren! Eon! Stop him!” “Is he not a traitor? Would it be so horrible if Talon were to punish him for the betrayal? It could be argued that this is partially his fault.” Wren drawled, voice thick with disdain. “It could also be argued that it’s his fault for not watching the self proclaimed ‘love of his life’. He got taken pretty easily huh Talon?” I ignored her but the words sunk into the hateful part of my brain. The part that agreed. The one that knew she was right. I pressed my advantage and Loren winced. It felt good to wipe the smug grin off his face, to rock his confidence. I kicked his shin hard, and he dropped down. I jerked one of my hands back, extending my claws more. I saw it too late, but that was okay. Loren spun at the last moment, saving his face from my slash, a blade appearing in his hands. He brought his arms down and I felt pain explode across the back of my neck. I hit the ground and clawed at it. I could still see his feet. I couldn’t get up. I couldn’t. Then again, I didn’t need to. Shadows shot out and I heard a grunt as Loren slammed into the ground. I tightened my fingers into a fist and heard him cry out, closing my eyes in bliss as the sound of bones cracking reached my ears. “He’s going to kill him! Someone do something!” Something slashed at my back and in retaliation I tightened my fist more. This time I got a scream. Another in a different voice followed, “Talon stop! Please!” Hands cupped my head and I jerked. “Sleep, brother.” The sound was so loud I don’t think I heard it. I just passed out after feeling strong vibration, my teeth rattling in my skull. * “Hey, kid.” Claws tapped gently against my forehead. I slowly opened one eye and then the other. Wren looked down at me, lips pressed in a thin line, “They’re trying to nail down who they think is responsible still.” “How?” I coughed out. My throat was raw. Spikes of pain lanced over my neck. I was laying in a shelter, propped up awkwardly. “Be careful with the talking. Hanja didn’t heal it all the way. He needed the energy for Loren. You’re asking the wrong person. You think I listen when you humans babble all your nonsense together?” “Should’ve let him die.” I moaned softly, struggling to swallow. “Can’t say I disagree. I don’t trust the slippery little thing. Hanja said he’d finish healing you once he’d had a nap. Go back to sleep. No one wants to deal with you right now.” Wren paused and rested a claw gently on my chest, “Hold onto that blood lust for Sun Beam. Whoever took him needs to regret it.” “I had him Wren. I fucked up.” My eyes burned and I felt like an idiot. “Yeah, none of us made it. We all did. Sleep kid. No tears. Hold onto the rage. Stoke it.” “You’re awake.” I peeked my eyes open again, blinking away the stupid excess moisture. Rah stood in front of me. I wasn’t sure when Wren had left and she’d come in. Maybe I had dozed off. She held her hands to her chest. Right next to a chain with my ring and her little coin. Her strange hair was tied up in small buns on either side of her head, fringe hanging messily over her forehead. She still didn’t have a blindfold. “Yeah.” I croaked. “He never meant for this to happen.” I didn’t answer her. I let my eyes fall closed again and decided I would sleep after all. She waited for me to respond and shifted nervously when I didn’t, “He’s been trying to get out since we got in. We didn’t know at first. About what Anders had done. We didn’t know that he knew who we were. Goddess, I didn’t even know who I was. By the time we figured out how much trouble we were in, it was too late. Then we took this job and suddenly you were real. You weren’t this imaginary person I clung to on the nights when I thought I wasn’t going to make it.” I heard a smile creep into her voice, “Then Kalian made it all harder. I almost told him everything the night he and Amaris fought. The story from beginning to end. He makes you feel…safe. Like whatever it is you’re carrying…he’ll help.” I tilted my head back, ignoring the shooting pain. My eyes filled and then overflowed, stupid weak tears running down my cheeks. I lifted my hands and covered my face, trying to stop the dam from breaking. How had he done this? How had he kept it together when I’d been captured? “We’re going to get him back. I promise. Loren and I-“ “Are fucking leaving as soon as glass for bones is able.” I said, dropping my hands and glaring at her, “What? You thought it was going to be okay? You stab us in the back and it’ll be alright because you conned your fucking way into the love of my life’s good graces? Unfortunately for you, he’s not here. Kalian is way nicer than me. I don’t fucking care where either of you go, but you will go.” “Please, I know this isn’t the right foundation to build a relationship on, but you’re still my brother.” She looked down at me, cloudy eyes brimming with tears. “My only family was just yanked through a fucking hole in reality. The rest of it died over a decade ago. Go away.” She looked hurt for a minute and then closed her eyes. Sighing softly, she headed for the entrance, “I understand why you’re upset. You have every single right to be, but I’ll still be here if you need me. Being an asshole might make you feel better but it doesn’t get you closer to bringing Kalian back.” “I need you and your friend to leave. That’s it.” I called, wincing as the volume strained my neck, pain radiating through it. Something pushed around in my head and a wave of exhaustion rushed over me, pulling me under and into sleep. There was a strange murmering in my head that slowly built and built. It morphed into a whisper, speaking volume, then a yell. One single word thrust repeatedly into my brain over the fledgling tether. It felt like it tore my brain in half and I woke up gasping. I blinked blearily as a silhouette moved above me. White hair, various tiny braids on the side of his head securing his hair away from his big pink eyes. I couldn’t say I was fond of Amaris’ favorite new past time. It made Wren all the more unnerving. “Kid, up. You’re going to want to see this.” Claws tapped hard against my forehead, and I was being dragged to my feet. I felt weird, delirious, and dizzy. Like I had been drugged, but how would that have happened? Wren pulled me from the shelter and I stiffened when soldiers in full suits of shining armor stood at the edge of camp. One stepped forward, the black and silver surcoat giving him a tiny bit more importance. His head turned to me and he actually took a step back. Much to my annoyance, Rah stepped up next to me, her hand slipping into mine. I tried to yank free, but she held firm. I wasn’t going to shove a blind girl away from me, for gods’ sake. She turned a small hopeful smile up to me, but I didn’t return it. I didn’t even look at her. Not that she’d know, I reasoned. I raised my chin, happy to find my throat back to normal. Hanja was great sometimes. “We come with news from his majesty, King Simerion of Dleth.” He looked around at our gathered group as if he expected a bigger reaction. He received mostly blank stares or sneers instead. He cleared his throat and continued, “You are trespassing on his land. Lyrah and Talon Verloren were marked for death upon their birth and the decree was meant to be carried out.” I wasn’t back to normal completely. My head still felt like it’d been cracked open like a ripe melon. My legs at least seemed willing enough to obey. I stalked forward, flipping my knife into my hand, “You going to do it?” He held up a hand quickly, his voice turning into a squeak, “H-however his majesty is lacking in heirs and family. He wishes to revoke the death sentence and meet his grandchildren. He has known for some time that you travel his lands and has made no attempt to attack in a show of good faith.” I studied the strangers for a long moment, noticing that my group’s eyes were on me. That made me a little uncomfortable. I was used to my voice being heard, but being defaulted to for this conversation? The only one speaking? Unusual for this group. I prowled forward, circling the suits of armor slowly. There were three in total, and to their credit, they stayed still as I moved. They were all braced, and one man’s hand moved to the hilt of his sword. Foolish. He wouldn’t have enough reach if he swung for me. He’d leave himself wide open. I made another slow lap and felt their anxiety rise by the minute until the speaker croaked out words again, “Will you not answer?” “You expect me to believe that the pettiest king on this continent, known for his long-standing grudges, has suddenly had a change of heart? The man who extended a death penalty to grandchildren he never met as soon as they were born? He’d have had us slaughtered in our cribs if he had gotten his way. You want me to come with you, to stroll into the kingdom like an idiot so he can slaughter me and my companions in the main square? Does he think I’m stupid?” One of the three shouted about insolence. The man with the sword swung and as predicted, was nowhere near close enough. I stomped his blade tip farther into the ground and wrapped my fist in shadow before hitting him so hard his helmet and head twisted on his shoulders. I glanced down at my fist, eyes wide and nodding slowly. Kalian was onto something with this. I didn’t know why I’d never thought of using my power this way. The second man dropped the banner he’d been holding to run from me, and I frowned at him. The word that’d battered my brain came back to me and I grit my teeth. I thought for a moment, “Wren.” “On it.” He bounded past me and pounced on the man with a loud metal clunk noise as they hit the ground. I turned to the man who’d done all the talking. His eyes were wide with terror as he stared past me. The air around us was filled with snarling, screaming, and tearing noises. A dented helmet smeared with blood soared over my head and landed in front of Eon. He sighed and toed it away from him, bored eyes tracking the carnage I’m sure was taking place behind me. “Y-you’re a monster. We’re messengers! Messengers!” The man shouted as I stepped closer to him. “Mm yes, correct on both fronts I’m afraid. Take too much after dear old grandpa.” I pulled him to me, fingers curled around the top of his cuirass, “I need you to do your job and be a messenger. I don’t have time for the king of Dleth. We’re needed elsewhere.” His eyes were wide and he tried to wrench himself away, “He’ll kill you all for your disobedience, your insolence!” I laughed, yanking him back to me, “He’s welcome to try, but I’m afraid he’ll need to get in line. We’ve already promised ourselves to Dimian you see. They took something from us, from me. No matter.” I grinned at him and could see my own slightly crazed smile reflected in his eyes, “I am going to raze the country to the ground. Wipe it from the map. I’m more than happy to put Dleth on the list next. I’m sick of kings, generals, and captains. So, I’m going to do away with it all.” “You’re completely mad!” ”Not completely. By your own admission, I’m a prince, show me some respect and…kneel.” *Kalian* Hot. I was so hot. At some point I think I was lucid as I felt people move me around. Someone may have wiped my forehead. I would dip in and out of consciousness. I’d tried to reach out to Talon all the way up until the point where I wasn’t coherent anymore. I don’t know that I even made it through. My head hurt. This was one of the better moments. A small hand was dabbing at my head, pushing sweat-soaked bangs away from my forehead. Was this a child? It didn’t matter. Nothing did right now. I dipped back under, floating again. It went like that for so long I lost track of time. I wasn’t as hot now. I looked around, my mouth dry and throat sore. I was still in a cell. I would assume the same one. It smelled like sweat, vomit, and sickness. My body was sticky, and my skin felt too tight. I was thirsty and weak. I could barely make out the raised, raw edges of the arrow wound. It looked infected. There was green and black around it. From what I could see holding my neck at the strange angle anyway. I heard small feet pad quickly across the floor and tried to raise my hands defensively. A little boy stopped in his tracks and flinched, holding his own hands up to cover his face. I coughed and they shook my body causing my hands to fall. I had to roll, gagging at the end, my chest burning. When my coughing fit was over, I returned to my back. He hadn’t come any closer, small hands still raised in front of his face. “W-water?” His big green eyes stared down at me blankly. I cleared my scratchy throat and tried again, “Water? Do you have any?” He kept staring, eyes huge in his little head. I coughed and he lifted his hand, bringing it up to his mouth as if he were drinking. I nodded eagerly and coughed again, covering my mouth. When I looked up again, he was reaching through the bars, short fingers poking at a handle of some kind. I tried to get up, but my head was spinning. He pressed his cheek into the hard metal and snatched the handle. He very slowly brought it into the cell, trying to hold it steady. His tongue poked out in concentration as he took careful steps to my side. I pushed myself up on an elbow and closed my eyes as everything around me shifted and rolled. He waited patiently. My fingers were numb and I clumsily dropped it as he tried to hand it over. It clattered to the ground loudly and his eyes somehow got wider. He picked it up and hid it behind his back. Then he kicked my arm out from under me. I hit my face hard against the ground and groaned. “Hey you little rat! Is he awake? You are supposed to tell us you stupid thing!” I couldn’t see the boy from this angle, but I could see the guard. I kept quiet, sagging against the ground. The guard glared at the space next to me and started angrily unlocking the door, “What do you got? We told you, he gets it when we says!” Lovely. I kept still as I heard the first hits land. Small yelps and grunts met my ears and I wished more than anything that I had my strength. This one. He would die. Maybe I would save him. Talon was way better at making people suffer. The poor thing was jerked into my line of sight as he desperately clung to the spoon. I closed my eyes as the man repeatedly kicked him. I heard him hit the ground and the cell door slam. “For that, no rations or water for the day you orphaned little mutt! For either of you!” Nope. I was going to kill him myself. The child was so still that I began to worry. Slowly, I pushed myself up. I found the wall and panted as I leaned back against it. “C-come here.” He didn’t react and a fresh bolt of fear washed through me. Gods, had he killed the poor thing? My throat still hurt and talking felt like claws raking up and down the inside. Instead, I tried nudging him with my toe. A bruised and bloody little face came into view and my heart strings pulled. I sent an ugly glare toward the guard standing at the base of the stairs. It took him a long time to get into a sitting position and when he had, he pressed his little hand to his chest and moved it in a few circles. I tilted my head to the side in confusion. He pointed to his ears and shook his head. Oh. Oh. I closed my eyes and felt around with my senses. The medicine must still be in my system. When I reached out for my power, there was nothing like before. I sighed and opened my eyes, jumping when I came almost nose to nose with the boy. He was way too thin. It made him even smaller, and I wasn’t sure how old he was. Why was he in the dungeon tending to a prisoner? That did not seem like a safe job for a child. I shook my head and let my head fall back against the wall. He was looking me over, but he seemed to keep coming back to my eyes. Fair enough. They were strange even for a Magik user. His were bottle green, no flecks, just pure green. No Magik then. Or at least he hadn’t awakened yet, which given his surroundings I wondered if his development had been stunted. His hands moved in a series of gestures and when I stared at him blankly, he pointed to himself and repeated them. His name maybe? Spelled out with his hands in a way I wasn’t familiar with? He made a small noise of frustration and my head lolled to the side a little. I still felt awful and a little nauseous. He made the motions slower and I looked at him through heavily lidded eyes. In turn, he stared at me like I was the dumbest creature he’d ever seen. There was straw strewn about the ground and he cleared it, his end goal the dirt underneath. With his pointer finger he drew out very crude letters. M, e, e, and p. Meep. “Meep? You’re name is Meep?” I asked looking down at the crude letters. Silence. I looked up. He stared at me, and I cursed myself. I was pretty slow on the uptake today. I pointed at him and asked again. He watched my mouth move, then smiled and nodded. Who was cruel enough to give a child a name like that? He made a small noise of affirmation then pointed at me. I yawned and etched my own name into the dirt, putting space between the letters. So, he was at least old enough to be literate. Well, perhaps not literate, but he could write his name. He said my name softly, scrunching his nose as he stumbled through the word. It was the only time I’d been upset with the number of syllables in my name. I erased the last part, leaving just the “Kal.” He looked up at me and promptly smacked the top of my head, “Hey, ow!” He rewrote the rest of my name and pointed from it to me. I nodded and smiled, feeling a little ashamed of myself. His lips moved slowly and with a determined look, he disappeared into the shadowed corner of the cell. Disappearing into shadows. Well, I seemed to attract a type at least. I smiled to myself and curled up on the floor, exhaustion taking hold right away. I think it was the fourth day. Things had gone like the first one with Meep with the addition of food and water if we didn’t commit some ridiculous offense to our guard. Stale bread in hand, I could move normally now. I could stand and walk and felt back okay. Except for one very important thing. My Magik was still stalled inside. It was like an itch I couldn’t scratch. It was barely out of reach and it was maddening. I’d been upgraded to a decrepit cot and I lounged on it, my back against the wall when I first noticed that something was wrong. A stone on the wall outside the cell shifted and drifted out into the open air. Something whizzed through the air and cracked open over the guard’s head. He looked up in confusion as a faint periwinkle colored mist drifted down over his head. I stared as he slumped against the wall snoring loudly. Meep had been sitting next to me, barely touching my side, but he scurried into his dark corner as the wall came apart. It was surprisingly quiet. The rocks shifted open in to reveal an archway and two people stepped out. One I recognized right away and wanted to cry. “I see that face you’re making and I don’t got time for it. No cryin’.” Phelti said, voice harsh even as she smiled at me, “Nyx.” “Yeah, yeah. I’m coming.” A younger man stepped around her, his hair was golden blond and his eyes were a pale blue with dashes of purple and green. He stepped up to the bars and gave me a half-hearted wave. He stuck his hand through the bars and opened it, palm up. Three yellow, walnut-sized balls sat in his hand and I slowly stood. “It neutralizes the toxins in your system. The shit keeping you from your Magik.” Phelti said. I saw movement behind her and smiled brightly at Ajul. Another girl with red and pink eyes stood next to her, a serious looking man with black eyes stood at the back. “What’re you guys doing? You could be killed for this!” I gasped softly, taking the objects from Nyx’s hand. He rolled his eyes and grumbled. “We’re part of the resistance, dummy. Did you think we were going to lay down and take it? The queen put the idea in our heads and then Athel…Athel made it all real.” The atmosphere darkened immediately and my heart sank as dread spilled over me. “…Athel?” I forced out finally. She avoided my eyes, “No, that makes sense. You guys would have no way of knowing. She openly refused to pledge loyalty. He hasn’t openly demanded it yet, but amongst the court staff and the school’s teachers it was common knowledge. You submit or you disappear. While some disagreed quietly, Athel threw down the gauntlet in front of the entire court when he announced his stupid new army and expansion plan. Anders made an example of her on the palace’s fucking front steps. Coward needed an entire force to take an old woman into custody. Gods’ knew the fucker wouldn’t have been able to take a legend like Athel himself.” “He’s a joke of a man and she will find him in the afterlife.” Nyx hissed, and I saw him clutching two small, black knives on his hips. Almost identical to Athel’s. A dark chuckle sounded from the man farthest back, “He needed many men yes, and she eventually did go down. Not before she cursed him in her native tongue and took out a whole bunch of his men, though. She died a warrior.” I looked at him. He glanced to me, face serious as he nodded. She would have wanted it that way. Athel was never one to let something like old age take her. It made sense that someone would have to force her from this world and she’d go down swinging. Still, my heart ached and a new rage filled me. Anders. His offenses kept mounting. I didn’t know how he intended to make amends when judgement day came, but I knew for certain that I would be the one sending him into the afterlife. I would be his final judge in this world and conveniently also his executioner. “The queen is dead then as well?” I asked once I’d forced myself over the news of Athel. “Yes, poison.” Nyx said, eyes downturned, “A classmate of mine was forced into it. She didn’t even know what it was for. She was beside herself with guilt. She took her own life shortly after.” I closed my eyes as I digested all of the information. Two more lives that could be laid at Anders’ blood soaked feet. “Kalian, listen. We can’t break you out of here without you at full power. We don’t have anyone as strong as you or Talon. A couple of the other teachers are in the resistance but it’s hard for them to move freely. If we make a move, it’s going to have to be the move. We’re only going to get one shot. Got it? Take one of those a day. The day after the last one is gone your powers should return fully. This isn’t an exact science. We don’t know when you’ll get them back, but that day for sure. We’ve never given them to someone with your power level. Anders has some weird ritual planned in four days. We’ll be cutting it close, but it took time to find you.” “If my powers don’t come back? What then?” I asked softly. They didn’t answer at first. Then Nyx met my gaze, “A war is coming either way. There are those of us that are going to stand against Anders without supercharged powers. You’ll have to forgive me, we aren’t friends, but you are a tool Kalian. Your status will not halt the mission. We will get the job done with or without you. We will fight with or without you.” Phelti frowned at him, but he stepped back into the archway, the others followed. Phelti gave me one last nod and disappeared after them. The wall closed and I found myself staring at it long after they’d gone. I returned to the cot when the guard started to wake. He glanced around in a panic and eyed us suspiciously, “You shouldn’t sleep on the job.” He sneered and I closed my eyes, feeling the cot dip as Meep crawled up onto it next to me. Nyx had been so determined, completely unfazed by whether or not I’d be joining them. He didn’t have an explosively offensive Magik and yet he was ready to fight. Would I be if my Magik didn’t come back? I opened my eyes. Whatever Anders had planned, he was in for a rude awakening.
  3. Demiurge

    Chapter 1: Dleth

    @headtransplant Kalian…suffer? I would never do that to him…
  4. Demiurge

    Thin Lines

    Talon had been quiet ever since he’d come back to the bedroom. The others had gone back to bed. Hopefully, they could get some rest before we set out to find Amaris, Loren, and Rah. I hoped they hadn’t made it took far, but Rah was slower. If we went quick, we thought we might be able to make up the ground. I sat up against the headboard, my pillows piled behind me as my gaze followed him around the room. It was foreign now, to not have him as a passenger inside my brain. “Are we going to talk about why you ran away?” I asked softly, smoothing the blanket over my lap. He was staring out the window. I’m not sure that he’d even looked at me since he’d left the room. The panic in his eyes had worried me more than anything I’d ever seen from him. Now it was like our communication had been knocked back to its initial point. Where it had been when we’d first been dancing around each other. He still hadn’t answered me. His head hadn’t even turned in my direction to acknowledge that he’d heard me. It was to the point of being rude now. I kicked off the blankets, shivering at the cool air in the room. I only wore undergarments and one of my own tight fighting tunics for once. “Talon? You can’t ignore me.” I stomped over and he shrugged my hand off as soon as it touched his shoulder, “I didn’t mean to sever our connection. You know that I loved it more than anyone. It was an accident. I was trying to help. I didn’t see any other way I could help you guys right now.” “Did you have to?” He turned finally, expression blank. He raised an eyebrow and I frowned at how cold his stare was, “I mean did you have to do something this specific night? Who asked you too? We wanted you to sit for a couple hours. That’s it. What? You don’t trust us enough to let us take care of things for one night? Have to have your fingers in every damn thing?” His expression hardened and I took a step back. It was like it had been in the woods when he’d been teaching me. When he’d left. He’d tried to leave that day. He’d tried to forcibly extract himself from my life before he got in too deep. We didn’t talk about it, but I knew that’s what had happened. I wasn’t going to let him go like I had that day. Not this time. “It’s not like that.” I frowned, preparing for an argument. He stood, stepping around me, leaning down as he did so to whisper in my ear, “It’s exactly like that. You can’t leave things alone. Can’t drop them.” I faced him as he sprawled out on the bed. I narrowed my eyes, “So what? End of conversation? You’re done. Talon’s finished his sentence, so pack it up everybody!” He waved a hand in my direction before dropping an arm over his eyes, “My point.” “I’ve had a strong claim on the moody brat princess crown for a long time, but oh baby, you are grabbing for it tonight.” I crossed my arms and glared at his unmoving form on the bed. Talon kept his eyes closed and I stared, my mouth slowly falling open. He held both hands up and mimed lifting a crown up before placing it on his head. “You’re incredible.” I scoffed. “I’ve been telling you that for months. One thing, though, a condition if you will. I am a fucking moody brat king. King. Get it right.” I rolled my eyes and he turned over, back to me. “Is this about the dying thing or the connection thing? Can you at least narrow it down?” I sighed, dropping my arms as he refused to look at me. “It’s all of it. You cozying up with ancient monsters by yourself, making choices for the entire group without consulting anyone else, making choices for me without giving my opinion any thought. Hiding things from the group. Hiding things from me. Making me feel like shit for hiding things from you when you’re a hypocrite. Fucking up and then hiding behind me while I smooth shit over for you. Oh wait, there’s more, the forcing me into things because you know I’ll follow you. You know I’ll follow because I love you. That one’s good. That’s manipulation Kalian. Fun little word. You should look it up. You are so fucking good at it. It’s your whole personality.” He still refused to look at me and I lowered myself into a chair, “Why are you only bringing all this up right now? S-some of it I’ve already been working on.” The room was silent now and it stretched between us. I rested my cheek against my palm and looked down at the ground as I forced myself to blink back tears. I covered my mouth. Then took slow and steady breaths. The connection was gone so at least I only had my own shitty emotions to deal with. The bed shifted and I wanted to look, but I didn’t think I could handle that cold stare again. “You should sleep. We have to go after Amaris tomorrow.” “I don’t want to go to sleep like this Talon.” I made myself look at him and he winced when our eyes met. “Listen. I’m pissed. That wasn’t the way I should have said that. It was mean.” He let out a long sigh and held the back of his neck as he looked at the ground. “I don’t mean to be like that. I didn’t know I was so manipulative. I didn’t know you saw me that way.” He flinched like I had slapped him. His hand slid from his neck to rub across his face. “There’s nothing wrong with you. You’re perfect and I’m shit. I get upset and project sometimes.” “No.” I frowned and took a breath. I walked over to sit next to him, “Don’t backtrack. I can’t work on it if I don’t know I’m doing it. I don’t think sometimes. Other times, I know exactly what I’m forcing you into and I take advantage of that.” Well fell into silence again, but this time it didn’t hurt. “I miss it.” He whispered softly. I linked our fingers gently, “Me too. Maybe we can find a way to get it back somehow.” “Like the tiniest fraction of your personality is manipulation. You don’t mean to. Literally everyone just naturally loves you and wants to follow wherever you’re going.” He mumbled. I smiled and crawled forward enough to go in for a kiss. I paused at the last minute as a tiny flare of insecurity smacked me in the face. He closed the distance, lips pressing to mine in a chastely. He let out a ragged breath and let his forehead rest against mine. “I love you?” I whispered, my pitch up ticking at the end as that stupid insecurity reared its ugly head again. “I’m sorry was that a question?” Talon raised an eyebrow, tongue pushed to the roof of his mouth to add to his offended expression. He crawled over me and laid me back on the bed. “No.” I giggled softly. “’Cause it sounded like a question.” His fingers ran up my sides and I squirmed as the touch tickled. “It w-wasn’t a question.” I giggled out, spreading my legs as he moved to lay between them, fully tickling my sides now. He tilted his head to the side as if listening very closely to my response, “Mm, sounds pretty inquisitive.” I squeaked and shrieked as he descended on me, hands moving over my most ticklish spots. I tried pushing and kicking him away, but he merely threw his weight on top of me to squish me under him. Seeing an opening, I rolled over and gripped the blankets, trying to drag myself out from under him. “No.” His tone of voice stopped me first. Then his hands gripped my hips and he pulled me back down. The mood shifted so fast; I was almost dizzy. A drawer opened and Talon kissed over my neck. I gasped and pressed my hips against the bed when he nipped. He nudged my cheek with his nose, and I turned my head. His lips captured mine and he kissed me slow, pulling away to suck on my lower lip. I shuddered and bit my lip when he left my field of vision. He pulled my shirt over my head and tossed it. His hands slid back down my sides, and he hooked fingers in the fabric covering my lower half as he slid it down slowly. Talon kissed down my spine as he went, pausing at the end to knead my cheeks. I heard him stand and I was already trying not to pant. Something glass clinked and then I was moaning into the mattress as he slid a finger into me. He leaned over me, his chest lightly touching my back as I rocked my hips a little. “Eager Kalian?” I blushed and shook my head. I gasped again as another slick finger slid deep into me. His tongue trace the shell of my ear and I let my head fall back on his shoulder. He shifted a little and his other hand cupped my jaw gently, leaning back. I was almost standing straight now, only my fingertips touching the bed. “Talon, stop messing around.” “So bossy. First you can’t confirm whether or not you love me and now you’re bossing me around.” He tsk’d behind me and curled his fingers. I moaned and rocked my hips, “Oh gods, shut up and give me what I want.” I heard a dark chuckle as another finger joined the first two, spreading and opening. I tried to grip at the bed, but his hand slid down to my neck, and he tightened it so I couldn’t reach. I gasped, “M-mean.” “Yeah. You are. It’s okay. I’m nice enough for both of us.” He pulled his fingers out and I whimpered. He flipped me over and smirked, “You already looked wrecked baby.” “Stop.” I whined. His smirk turned dirtier, and he pushed my knees to my chest, “If you’d be so kind.” He slid his hand down to grip my neck again as I held underneath my knees and my head fell back as he pushed in slowly. He glanced down and squeezed, cutting off air. Talon kept his eyes on mine until he bottomed out. I was panting now. I’m sure my cheeks were flushed. My hands were replaced with his and he rocked his hips faster. “Still a question?” It took me a while to figure out what he even meant; my mind was too focused on every time he thrusted forward. “N-no.” I gasped. He pushed my knees higher and snapped his hips forward harder. I threw my head back and cried out. Talon leaned down, lips ghosting over mine, “Good.” After he apparently received the correct combination of word choice, tone of voice, and intonation, he stopped holding back. At some point I’d ended up back on my knees, hands fisted in the sheets as he did his best to actually fuck me through the mattress. All my normal noises fell off in favor of screams and there was no way the house was sleeping through it. “Shh, I think Hanja may kill me if I wake him up again.” He grunted softly behind me as he slammed into my spot. I cried out and trembled under him, “Mm, not listening babe?” I only shook my head. The next time he moved forward, his hand clamped over my mouth and the resulting cry. He hauled me back against his chest again, holding me tight. I gripped his forearm and let my head fall back on his shoulder. I screamed my orgasm into his hand a couple minutes later and my head lolled forward when he joined me soon after. I had no idea how long ago we’d started. I dipped in and out of consciousness. We’d slept for a couple hours, I think. Right now, my forearms were pressed to the headboard, fingers lightly holding it behind his head as I straddled his lap. My eyes were closed, and our breath mingled in the small space between us. It wasn’t fast. His hands slid over every inch of me as if I were shiny and new. I rocked against him, shuddering each time he angled exactly right. It took so much longer this way. We weren’t frenzied and slamming each other against the nearest surface that could support our weight long enough to finish. He held my hips down and pressed up harder, deeper. His head tilted, lips leaving a trail of kisses over my jaw. I let my hands drift down, tangling in his hair to tug gently. The tugging became a little more demanding when that familiar feeling started to build. I worked my hips a little faster and cupped his cheek, guiding his tongue into my mouth. I dropped my other hand to stroke myself, and he swallowed all the sounds I made as I got closer. “There’s no way we didn’t keep Hanja up.” I mumbled. My cheek pressed to sheets we’d just changed out. By we I meant Talon. I couldn’t feel my legs. They were like noodles right now. “Mm yes. Remember me when our healer slaughters me later today.” Talon yawned as he stretched out next to me. “Do you think we’ll get the connection back?” I mumbled again, even more incoherently. “We’ll just have to see.” Talon near slurred and in the seconds after the words fell into the dark, I heard him softly snoring. * I didn’t miss the walking. No one did I’m sure, but my limp did not help. We really had to start planning things like last night better. Poor Talon had bags under his eyes and was noticeably short tempered this morning. He’d been up before me and had woken me up at the very latest point he could. When I’d finally left bed after whining and a lot of convincing, he’d already had everything ready. He’d lost even more sleep so that I could sleep longer. I pouted softly again at the thought as I looked at his back. Stupidly sweet man. For once, it looked like Eon was the one holding the conversation and I wondered what strange world we’d flipped into when I’d slept. Poor Talon nodded and even gave my brother a thumbs up at one point. I glanced to my right to nod and smile at Tyren as he spoke. Even without the connection, I knew that Talon was beyond his limit. He probably had been a long time ago. We’d been at it for an entire day, and we had a lot of ground to make up. With out without Rah, they had a time advantage on us. I trudged after the others and Tyren and I went back and forth on the letters. “Hey guys!” I called and Talon and Eon turned, “Let’s make camp. My legs are killing me!” “I wonder why.” Wren rolled his eyes and fixed me with a serrated grin. I looked from him to Eon and wiggled my eyebrows. Wren’s grin widened and my eyes dipped down as something caught my eyes. Fingers. Marks. There were clear fingermarks on Wren’s neck. Ohh. Oh no. I decided I wanted out of this exchange of expressions and any conversation that may ensue. We all fell into our normal jobs and by the end I had worked up a sweat. That was the first time I noticed that it wasn’t frigid, and I mentioned it to Tyren who hummed. “To be honest, I should have done more research on the seasons here. Dleth shouldn’t be far off from Dimian however, given their location. Perhaps spring is creeping closer?” I smiled and helped him, and Hanja set up for dinner. “You do know that the walls in houses are generally not made from steel lord?” Hanja snarked, the blue around his red irises brighter in the day’s light. I felt my face heat, “Yes, sorry. It’s inconsiderate.” “Rude. Rude is what it is. If you tw- “ “Hanja. Stop it. They’re young. Leave them alone. Goddess Kalian died. Forgive Talon if he was a little…overzealous.” I giggled softly when my teacher smacked his profoundly serious partner hard enough with a wooden spoon that the thwack echoed in the open air. Hanja’s lip puffed out in a reluctant pout, and he discreetly rubbed his arm. Camp finished, I looked around. Wren was glaring at the fire suspiciously as Eon motioned to it while he explained something. Wren looked up at my brother, eyes squinted as if the bigger man had dropped into a dead language halfway through. Hanja and Tyren had fallen into silence as they cooked together. Talon was nowhere to be found. I ached as I felt the connection’s absence again. I’d have to find him the old-fashioned way. I rubbed my sore hips and strolled across the camp. I opened the first shelter with no luck. When I opened the second one’s flap, I almost laughed in pity. Talon was face down and still fully dressed. Tyren and I had all the bed rolls and bedding ready which was fortunate because I’m not sure if Talon would have cared. His face was smashed into a pillow and his hands were palm down by his face. “Love, you alive?” One hand rose in his second thumbs up of the day and then fell heavily back to the ground. I kneeled and yanked his boots off. I rolled him, grunting softly when he remained dead weight. He whined pitifully and I winced when his arm bent weirdly under him until he flopped onto his back. I crawled up and pulled his shirt over his head with, again, zero help from the man himself. “Could you pick a different day to ravage me? Energy levels dangerously low.” He muttered, eyes closed, then let out a long-suffering sigh, “But if you insist. You’re on top.” I rolled my eyes and then I frowned softly. I had noticed his cheeks were flushed even now that he was shirtless. I’d noticed the pink dusting across his cheeks when I’d rolled him over, initially. I pressed the back of my hand gently to his forehead. “Are you feeling okay Talon?” He was hot to the touch, but I couldn’t tell if he was hotter than normal. “No. Tired. Head hurts.” I tilted my head to the side, “Your head hurts?” “That’s what I fucking said isn’t it?” I blinked as he opened his eyes and snapped at me. His cheeks were more flushed now and his eyes were unfocused, his pupils like pin pricks. “I’ll grab Hanja.” I drew my knees under me and stood. “Don’t need to get Hanja. Just let me fucking sleep. Gods. Not hard.” I rolled my eyes and stuck my tongue out at him. Now either way I was getting Hanja. Simply because he was being rude. Hanja kneeled next to a now sweating Talon who insisted he needed sleep, “Oh Verloren, excellent news. I hadn’t heard you’d become a healer. Exciting to learn you’ve surpassed me in my field of expertise and know my specialty of a decade better than I do.” Tyren and I exchanged a wide-eyed look and even Talon closed his mouth. Hanja could be snotty and snarky, but even this was a new level for him. I bit my lip hard to stifle a laugh at the deadpan delivery and Eon had to look away quickly when we met eyes. I still heard a barely stifled laugh. Hanja held out his hands and Talon began to open his mouth again. Wren squirmed around Eon, “I could smack him again?” Talon’s mouth closed and stayed that way while Hanja checked him over, “I’m not finding any injuries. It’s possible that this is simple fatigue and poor attitude.” “Wow, it’s almost like that’s exactly what I said. If you idiots had just listened. I could be asleep, and you wouldn’t have wasted everyone’s time.” Talon muttered snottily. All of us glared down at him. Wren turned large, pleading, round eyes up at Eon. Who I now noticed was holding his hand. White claws were curled into my brother’s much bigger fist. Eon nodded and Wren sprang forward with malicious excitement and smacked Talon so hard the sound resounded in the tent. Talon had been sitting up and now stared up at the ceiling of the shelter from his back. I glared at Eon who lifted his shoulders as Wren’s fingers slid back into his, “He got away from me. Sorry. Wren gets aggressive sometimes and, remember, he’s so much stronger than I am. Little ol’ me can’t control him.” I glared harder and wished I had something to throw at him as Talon groaned from the floor, “When the fuck has Eon ever been described as little? I’m convinced he appeared one day as a six foot six-year-old built like a brick shit house. Also, Wren. Can you knock me out next time? What’s this open-handed garbage? Shit.” “Can I knock you out next time?” Wren’s voice was suddenly excited. “No,” Eon, Talon, and I answered in unison and the last I saw Wren was pouting before Eon closed the flap. The others had long since left, Hanja muttering. I moved over to cover him up and tried to ignore his annoyed grumbling. He had a red mark across his cheek with small gouges from Wren’s claws. I lightly touched the pads of my fingers to it. I whispered the spell and dropped my hand when it’d healed, feeling my pendant warm against my chest under my coat. “Stay here.” I looked up at him. He still looked grumpy and was glaring down at the blanketed floor, but his eyes flicked up to me. I smiled softly and pulled off my boots and coat, setting my necklace to the side as well. As soon as I sat down, his arm wrapped around my waist, and he pulled me against him. We lay on our sides, and I covered us with the blankets. I woke up slowly, feeling a weird sensation. As my brain focused, I gasped softly. Two of Talon’s fingers were working inside me. When he felt me become more alert, he added a third. I was still a little sore and I whimpered softly as I moved my hips back to meet him. My eyes darted around. There was still light outside the shelter. The others had to be close by, but gods it felt good. “Wh-what are you doing?” “Don-don’t know feel weird.” “Weird?” His fingers left my body, and my pants were pushed farther down my thighs, “T-Talon. They’re going to hear us.” His hand clamped over my mouth and I almost bit down on it as he slid into me. It was rough and I clawed at the blankets in front of me as I heard his skin slap against mine. I inhaled through my nose. I’m not sure how well his palm muffled my moans and cries as he rammed into me. He pressed my front into the ground as he moved on top of me. He pulled out long enough to wrench my pants off. Then he spread my legs. I grabbed a pillow and bit down. Sure enough, his tip brushed over my entrance and then he was thrusting forward hard. It felt like he was in my lungs. My thighs shook and I gripped the pillow as I rubbed my hips against the ground, seeking friction. So close. Almost there. In a rare turn of events, I clenched hard around him after a few rough thrusts to my prostate and his dull nails dug into my lower back as he came first. I squeezed the pillow against my face and screamed as I came against the ground. My vision blurred and I chalked it up to the orgasm until I looked around and it got worse, “Talon something’s wrong.” “Sonuva,” He fell over next to me and a Talon shaped blob looked like it was grabbing its head and writhing. That was strange. My hands flew to my head as pain smacked across the front of it. My arms gave out and I laid on the ground, gasping as pulse after pulse slammed through my skull. Is this what he’d felt when he’d stumbled into our bedroom? Whimpering, I tried to look over at him. How had he fucking walked at all? I felt a hand rub my back gently, the movements halting and managed to open my eyes a little. “Swear to the gods, if this isn’t the connection, I’m stabbing somebody.” Talon managed to force out, still trying to rub my back. His words were so slurred I could barely make them out. I watched him wince and grit his teeth. I gasped as another wave of pain stabbed through my head. This idiot was still trying to comfort me. How? Then, as suddenly as it came, it was gone. I blinked up at the canvas ceiling and panted. Talon dragged himself closer and held himself up on his elbows, looking down at me, “You, okay?” I lifted my hands and he gratefully dropped down, collapsing on my chest. We managed to get the blanket up and I closed my eyes as exhaustion descended. I tried not to get too excited as I felt a tiny nudging at the very outskirts of my mind and Magik. * I was on the road, and I couldn’t help my sigh. I waited for the inevitable. The blood, the gore, the horrific Lex imagery. I waited and waited, but so far there was only walking. Frowning, I looked around. I didn’t like when the dreams deviated. It was never a good thing. I shuddered as I remembered the sensation of Talon’s fangs ripping into my throat. There wasn’t anything around. Grey sky, red dirt, and the lighter red road. There weren’t even trees in this dream. I looked around again, glancing behind me. I stopped. Facing away from me, someone was crouched. I could see the blond hair from here. It wasn’t dirty though. It was bright and shone like it had before all of this had started. Turning my feet, I made my way in his direction. I was ten feet away when I stopped. He didn’t get up or acknowledge my approach. It looked like he was digging in the dirt. I walked around him, leaving the road, and giving him a wide berth. His blond curls fell onto his forehead and his face was intact, tan cheek unmarred. He still didn’t seem to notice me. Then I remembered. This was a memory. My brain filled in the rest of the image. His left hand filled with colorful flowers and his right a shovel he’d stolen from who knows where. I looked up and there I was too. In all my pre-Magik and confidence glory. Scrawny, pale, dull, and sad looking. I winced. Eon stood a little to my left and I almost didn’t recognize him. All cheap shaven. His hair was cropped short and he lacked a certain murderous monster hanging off him.They were both wearing their military uniforms. That’s right. This was the first time they’d come home. Eon’s face was blank as he watched his friend, though he did glance down sharply when I dared touch his sleeve. “Lex, we’re going to get in trouble!” Teen Kalian whispered, partially hiding behind Eon. Lex laughed and stood, brushing his hands off, “It’s a couple of flowers. It’s going to be okay kid.” He held them out and Eon looked very unimpressed. I cringed softly as the eyes of the boy behind him widened. He looked between the flowers and the man, “Really? They’re for me?” “Eon doesn’t like flowers. You’re the only other one here. Better you than nobody.” Mallex laughed and I remembered being so charmed. The sun shining down on his golden hair and over his broad shoulders in his vibrant uniform. I watched myself take them, blue and brown eyes like saucers as I looked at Mallex like he hung the stars individually in the sky. My bar had been so, so impossibly low. The image faded and I wondered why my brain enjoyed torturing me? Were we going to cycle through all the memories tonight? It seemed like it. I stumbled through them, walking down the road. I would find a new Lex and my mind would paint the scene as if I didn’t remember them all. I noted the subtle changes in his expressions, the sanity slipping from his eyes. With dread, I staggered forward, and I knew chronologically where I was. Lex’s hair was messier, his curls not maintained as well. He was looking down, lips upturned in a smirk that made my stomach churn. His hand reached down with two fingers extended. I shook my head. I didn’t need to see it again. It was burned into my mind’s eye forever. I could never unsee it. I dropped down, resting my elbows on my knees and covering my head as the noises of my own violation reached my ears. I heard myself wretch. Then the few seconds of sniffling I’d allowed myself after Mallex had finally fallen asleep. I scoffed at my own brain. Great. My favorite. A black shape flew across my vision, and I blinked rapidly as it crashed into the ground. I heard a slew of curses and my heart skipped. Talon stood up slowly and cracked his back, wincing, “Ow.” He looked around and saw the memory. Or the tail end of it. Which was just me laying on the ground amongst vomit and…other fluids. The set of his shoulders went rigid, and I watched his jaw clench. He took a deep breath and rolled his head on his shoulders. Then he literally shook it out with his hands. His eyes scanned around and softened when they found me. “Surprise,” He mouthed, too far away for me to hear. He stalked forward and pulled me to my feet, tucking me against his chest, “Why watch all this when you could replay all the times I f- “ “I don’t really have a choice.” I mumbled into his chest, hiding my face. “I know love. I’m sorry. Get some actual sleep.” I clung to him and pressed my cheek to his chest. Soon my eyelids grew heavy, and I didn’t have time to wonder how you got tired in a dream. * Wren and Talon were worried. They’d picked up the other group’s trail early this morning. That’s why they were worried. They insisted that Amaris should know better. She was an assassin after all. They were a small group and even though there was only the one road, it was still smart to mask your steps. Advertising where, how often you made camp, and how many were in your party was foolish. Talon looked much better today and Tyren commented as much. “I’m sorry that we seem to create disturbances so often.” I blushed and rolled my eyes in exasperation as my teacher laughed at me. “Can I let you in on a secret?” Tyren whispered conspiratorially and I leaned closer. My eyes widened and I nodded. He smiled mischievously, “Hanja and I used to carry gags because that man couldn’t control himself for a full 24 hours.” I couldn’t help it. I barked out a loud, sharp laugh and slapped my hands over my mouth. The others in front looked back. Talon glanced between us and then to Hanja as if he’d guessed. A soft grin formed on his lips. Hanja only stared at Tyren; eyes narrowed in suspicion. Tyren merely waved happily. “I wish we were the same age. Think of all the trouble we could get into!” I giggled and Tyren held his chest, eyes wide as he laughed as well. “I don’t know if the world could handle a young Hanja paired with Talon. They’d be partners in crime.” Tyren smiled and I studied the healer who was walking between Eon and Talon. Wren hung from my brother’s back, claws resting lightly over my brother’s Adam’s apple. I noted how tight Eon’s grip on Wren’s thighs was. Yeah, I’m sure the tiny terror would have no qualms about catching himself with Eon’s throat if he fell. I turned my gaze back to Hanja’s blank face. “I can’t see it, teacher.” I finally said. “Not now maybe.” He snorted, “He was a different person when he was younger. The first time I met him he wall ran over my head, scaled up a building onto a roof, and ran over clay tiles that broke underfoot each time he stepped down.” “What? Our Hanja? That one?” I pointed and the man in question turned again, eyeing the finger pointed at him. “Oh yes. He was running from, I think, the palace guards. We had to return to a dorm for people like us after our lessons you see. Hanja didn’t want to that day I guess.” He smiled at the memory, “Then he noticed me and had the dumbest look on his face.” “I resent that.” I jumped as Hanja’s quiet voice invaded the conversation. He’d stopped, waiting a few feet away. Tyren smiled softly at him and linked his arms around one of Hanja’s once we’d reached him. “Your face was so blank, and you were staring at me slack jawed. How would you describe it?” Tyren laughed and I smiled over at them. Hanja cleared his throat and stared straight ahead, “I don’t know. The light hit you just right that day. I’d never seen someone who looked like you.” I bite my lip and knew that I was becoming a third wheel, but I refused to miss out on the story. Tyren grinned, “Well, while the light was hitting me just right, the tiles under his feet broke and he fell to the ground. Mind you, that entire time, I don’t know if I even breathed. I was so surprised. Then I heard the guards, and I don’t know, I didn’t think I simply moved.” I was invested, hanging on each word, “You moved? What did you do?” “I hauled him down the alley, wrenched open a door, and yanked him inside. I think it must’ve been some kind of storage room. I heard the guards rush by and saw the shadows under the door. I was absolutely terrified, mind you. I didn’t even speak the common tongue fluently yet, and this moron is yammering in my ear in a totally different language.” Hanja yammer? I laughed and then laughed harder when I took in the soft blush on Hanja’s cheeks. “What was he saying?” I jumped and looked up at Talon’s question. The others had fallen back and Hanja and Tyren now had a full audience. Talon’s voice was lacking any teasing, genuine curiosity coloring his words. His eyebrows were raised slightly. “Actually, I don’t know.” Tyren laughed. “What did you say?” Eon asked, turning to the healer. Hanja shifted, suddenly finding a stray tree remarkably interesting, “I asked him to marry me.” Our group descended into chaos and Hanja tried desperately to get away from Tyren who’s eyes had exploded in adoration. Talon had a wide smile on his face, and he held his hand out. I took a few steps forward to grip his hand and he swung them gently. “Then what? Is that what it takes for you humans to get married?” Wren asked, head popping over my brother’s shoulder as he gripped his shoulders to hoist himself up. Tyren laughed happily and shook his head before resting it on Hanja’s shoulder, “No, I punched him and left him in the little room by himself.” “You what?” I gasped in fake outrage. “Well, kind of. He figured out that I couldn’t understand his very heated, uh I guess, proposal and so he pushed me against the wall and kissed me. So, I hit him. He was out cold.” Hanja was going to melt into a puddle and cease to exist. He moved his hands up to hide his face and Tyren only cuddled up closer. I giggled more and the group grew silent. Hanja at least seemed thankful. He ignored everyone as he tried to get his face to return to its normal pale shade. Talon swung our hands and I felt that nudging in my mind. It wasn’t a complete link yet, but he’d jumped into my dream. That was something. I squeezed his hand and he lowered his head to kiss my knuckles. The road was still and silent and unease started to creep up my spine. I squeezed my fingers tighter in Talon’s and he seemed to know the difference from before. A question. He nodded as he whispered, “I know, love.” Ahead, Wren gracefully dropped to the ground. Tyren released Hanja and from where I stood, I could see a chunk of metal in his palm. Hanja tilted his head as if listening and Wren stepped away and behind Eon. Talon’s hand left mine and he fell back, calmly looking around. The feeling of unease only grew. It was like we were being watched, stalked, hunted. Like we were prey. I hated it. I didn’t have to wait for much longer. “Fancy meeting you here. I did miss your beautiful faces.” I braced myself as Loren stepped out of thin air. Or it seemed that way. The landscape around us shifted and the entire north side of the road was a sea of red. The soldiers shifted, waiting for the order. My eyes scanned over them. Not enough. They hadn’t brought enough. We could do this. Then I glanced back to Loren. I hadn’t factored him in. Loren was a formidable opponent. He stood still now, spinning a blade around his hand, a troubled expression on his handsome face. A man in military blues with close-cropped grey hair strode forward. “We have orders. Kill them all.” He said simply and shrugged. “Loren don’t help them! This isn’t you!” Rah struggled forward, screaming. Her eyes were exposed, and two soldiers held her back. Talon tensed and his eyes drifted up to the soldier’s face when she cried out in pain. Loren turned at Rah’s cry and he seemed to abandon whatever position he’d been holding. “No one said anything about touching her. Either of them.” His voice was low and dangerous. “Get back to your position! You have orders! Anders will hear about this insolence! What do you think he’ll do to her then?” I assumed the man meant Rah, but Loren froze. As we watched, a slow smile crept onto his features. “That was a very bad choice.” Rah shook her head. Loren strolled casually back to where the man stood and smiled brightly. “Captain, you’re right. I forget my place. Oh, forgive me, there’s dust on your epaulet.” The man glanced down at his shoulder in confusion. Talon tensed again next to me and so did Wren. The man didn’t have enough sense to. Loren clamped his fingers on the man’s shoulder as his other hand came up. Something glinted in the sunlight. He held the back of the captain’s head almost tenderly, bright smile still in place, and then started jamming the small knife into the man’s eyes. Over and over. The people nearest them seemed frozen in shock and I stared with my mouth open as Loren’s hand continued to jab forward lightning fast. Wren let out a crazed giggle, a hand sliding over Eon’s abs as he watched. He looked up at my brother in clear glee, making sure Eon had seen. “Did you want to say it again? One more time? I was too far away. Couldn’t hear you.” I glanced to Talon as Loren let the man fall to the ground and started stomping on his head. “Loren. Loren!” Rah called softly as the soldiers started to shuffle forward. He stopped and held up his hands, blood painted his chest and face. His hand was drenched and still holding the knife. His back was to us, but he grinned over his shoulder, “temporary truce?” “Agreed,” Eon said after we all exchanged looks. “Kalian,” Talon stepped around and in front of me, “Find Amaris and get the two of you out.” After I got over the initial shock of Talon trusting me by myself in a fight, I focused. I nodded and he was gone. He went straight for Rah and I breathed a sigh of relief. I thought for a second. If Rah was being treated like a prisoner, it made sense that she’d been brought from the same area. Or she could know where Amaris was. I darted after Talon. A red clad brunette crept up behind him as he was focused on three approaching him from the front. I reached the man in red as shadow snapped through the others. I slammed a small thin blade of light into the man’s neck and jumped, my knees connecting with his back hard. He lurched forward and when he hit the ground, I extended the blade and grabbed the opposite end. I pulled it clean through his neck and he stopped struggling. I stood and shook my hands out. I felt a little jittery. Talon had whipped around and gave me a dirty look, “What’re you doing? “What you told me to.” I threw my hand out and tiny light daggers flew into a blond’s face as he ran at us, “Attitude much?” He tilted his face a little away from me, but I saw his smirk. His attention turned and the men holding Rah hit the ground. Ropes of shadow sprung from the earth, winding around them as it drug them away from their prisoner. I blew Talon a kiss as I moved toward his sister. In passing I flicked my wrist, a disc of light rolled across the ground. It decapitated both men and I heard Talon shout, “Show off! I was getting to that!” “You okay?” I asked before I got to her so she wouldn’t pop my brain if I touched her. I was breathing hard, my stomach twisting already at the violence. It was necessary. This was necessary. What if that man had landed a hit on Talon? The back of his head? What if the others had hurt Rah? Necessary. “Kalian!” I wrapped her in a quick hug. “Do you know where they’re keeping Amaris?” She nodded and held out her hand. She stumbled a few times, apologizing for her difficulties in the snow. I wouldn’t hear it. We were working our way slowly around behind the main battle. I started hearing more noises and prepared myself. Metal, screaming, the sounds of violence. There was no need. Amaris stood a few feet away from a small metal cage. I grit my teeth as I saw bruises and realized her pants were torn as was her top. I stepped around her and tried to wrap my mind around what was in front of me. I don’t know how many there were. There were men strewn all around the cage. Loren was inside of it. He had a severely beaten man pressed against the bars with enough force that the structure was creaking. “Didn’t know she was yours. I swears.” “Oh well. It’s fine then. You didn’t know. An honest mistake.” Loren let up, releasing his hold. The man stepped away, eyes darting from the cage door to Loren. He made it two steps. Loren caught his wrist and threw him across the small space, his head connecting with the bars. “Oh my, you fell. My dear man, you are quite clumsy. A word of advice friend, she’s not anyone’s. People aren’t belongings.” Loren snarled and it rivaled Wren and Talon so much that I almost took a step back. “Please, please. I just needed the money.” The man pleaded, face already starting to bruise. “Hey, hey. I understand. Money is a big motivator. I too, am hard up for cash.” Loren smiled reassuringly as he crouched next to the man who’d crumpled to the ground. Loren waved his hand in a circle and a knife fell into his palm which he slammed down through the man’s hand. He was still smiling as the man screamed, “Not sure if you’re aware, it is a well kept secret after all, but you can make money without rape!” He pulled the knife out and held his arms out, laughing as the man screamed again, “I know! Amazing right?” “Mercy! Gods mercy you demon!” The man shouted, holding his hand. Loren rested his elbow against a bar, hand pressed lightly to his mouth and knife hanging loosely from his fingers as he considered. After a minute, he stood and turned, “Beautiful? Life or death? He made a mistake! He didn’t know! He’s just in this for the money! Mercy! Oh, also I am a demon!” Amaris’ lips quirked in a cruel smile at Loren’s mock pleading, and I shuddered. Maybe it was safer if we kept these two apart? She walked forward and entered the cage. Pressing against Loren she looked up at him and then down at the man. “I too accidentally rip people’s clothes off and then try to trip repeatedly whilst aiming my dick outwards.” Loren said, grin slipping into something a little less pleasant. It only lasted a minute before he nodded with fake sympathy down at the man. Amaris snatched the knife from Loren and implanted it in the top of the man’s head. “Verdict delivered. Now, if you’ll excuse me.” Loren cupped Amaris’ face, kissed her, and left the cage. He smiled sadly at Rah and I. Then I watched him launch himself back into the battle. Amaris looked okay at first. Something told me to go to her anyway. Sure enough, as soon as she cleared the cage, she collapsed. I caught her and lowered us to our knees. Wrapping her in my arms, I registered Rah slowly coming up behind us. “We’re under his control. I’m sure if you’ve come you know that by now. We didn’t want to do any of this.” Rah said as I held Amaris. She was silent, but I felt her tears through my coat. “Then why did you? We trusted you. You could’ve told us. We might’ve been able to help.” It hurt. I wasn’t going to lie. I could take or leave Loren, but I had thought in our short time together, Rah and I had built a little friendship. “They have his mother.” She kneeled next to us. “His what? No. Never mind. I can’t even process this right now.” I sighed and rubbed Amaris’ back. I lifted my head when I heard rushing feet. Handing Amaris Rah’s hands, I turned calmly. A group of men had broken free. It wasn’t that many. Maybe six. I ducked as the first one reached me, spinning, and slicing through his Achille’s tendons. As I rose, I chopped downward. An arrow shaped strip of light ripped through the center of his chest. Leaning back, I avoided the second attacker’s sword. I dodged another swing. I misjudged and he brought it back, hitting me in the mouth with the hilt. Why was it always my mouth? It was a miracle I hadn’t lost any teeth! The sword swung again but stopped before it reached me. Threads of crimson wrapped around it and the blade jerked from the man’s hands. The threads snapped into view again and a hand caught them on the other side. Amaris’ legs wrapped around the man’s waist as she pulled her Magik taut. The man’s face was already bright red as she pulled with all her strength, crimson crisscrossed over his throat. I caught the handle of an axe as another attacker brought it down towards her back. Light extended from two fingers, and I slid them into the man’s ears, pushing until they appeared on the other side. Amaris’ freed herself from the man she’d dropped. Two left. We both stilled as we heard a shriek behind us. A bear of a man had picked up Rah and she was kicking and struggling for all she was worth. “Go,” Amaris was already running, and I staggered as I took a hit. Throwing my hands up I pushed out a wall, slamming it into the man. I stood and forced it forward, collecting the other man as he ran for me. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. It was only going to get worse from here. Time to find out what exactly I was made of. My friends needed me. I needed to take care of these men fast. I snapped my eyes open and lifted my hands. The wall curved and lifted the men up. I flipped my hands and slammed them down, smashing the bodies against the ground. I lifted my hands a little and then pushed down until I heard the screaming stop and there was an unpleasant crunching. Shaking off a wave of revulsion, my feet were already moving in Rah and Amaris’ direction. I stopped short and let out a breath when I saw Rah wiping her hands off and Amaris scowling. They were both covered in carnage and looking past Amaris, I would guess it was the big guy’s head…deconstructed. “You could have warned me.” Amaris griped. “I didn’t know you were that close.” Rah whined defensively. “What?” Amaris shouted, cupping a hand near her ear. I couldn’t help it. It wasn’t the place or time, but I covered my face and broke down into laughter.
  5. Demiurge

    Sever

    I saw Amaris’ hurt expression. I had blamed her. Staring blankly at a dirty wall, I tried to piece things together. How much had Anders taken from my head? How much damage had I done to my group? We were all in danger and he could be on the way to wipe us out right now. Amaris could be walking right into his clutches, Loren her cheerful and handsome jailer. I thought about Rah. They hadn’t seemed like people who would follow Anders willingly. Did they know about his powers? About the control? Was there some kind of block he’d put on them so they weren’t able to tell us? I had been too focused on my own thoughts and I left myself wide open. I had enough presence of mind to let the connection flare open completely. Talon saw everything. The Soul Eater lunged for me, claws curling into the rounded parts of my shoulders as it drove me to the ground. That awful gaping mouth opened and closed as it leaned down towards my face, “I will take back that which you do not deserve.” I felt anger and fear rush to meet mine in my head, but I didn’t have time. I shoved at its face, forcing it away from mine. I struggled for purchase with my legs, trying to get them between us. The robe the creature wore wasn’t solid. My feet slipped through where I thought its legs were each time I tried to gain leverage, only to have my own pinned to the ground in the next minute. One set of claws ripped from my shoulder and my own blood dripped across my face as it brought its hand over and down. My hands were pressed to its neck and forehead still, its jaw snapping as screams and maniacal laughter left its void of a mouth. “I should h-have killed you b-before.” I gasped out as it slammed me against the dirt covered floor, the oxygen leaving my lungs in a whoosh. “Yes child. You should have. I would say consider it a lesson. If you weren’t going to die today.” “All that about needing me to free you? Anders weakening you? I spat, slashing light across its eyes sockets. It shrieked and hissed but managed to keep a hold on me. It roared and its fingers wrapped around my head, “All true, but I cannot wait for you to decide to take pity and help. You humans are insects to the likes of me.” I could hear footsteps thundering over the floor as it lifted my head and slammed it down hard on the wood underneath me. I was a little dazed. It obviously didn’t feel good, but I could manage. Then it raised my head again. The Soul Eater slammed it down even harder and pain exploded at the back of my head. I made some kind of noise. I’m not even sure what it was. My consciousness was slipping, and I barely felt my head being picked up for the third time. After that, it felt like I was somewhere else, drifting. I heard a soft…call? Was that what it was? Almost a song lulling me to slip farther, deeper. I hummed softly to myself. It was nice. I reached for it but felt a rough tug in the other direction. I frowned, a soft whine escaping my lips. Blinking open my eyes, a window shuddered into existence in front of me. That tug came again, harder this time. I cocked my head to the side and stepped closer. Oh. I was laying on the ground. The Soul Eater was on the other side of the room now. Talon was crouched over me, cradling me to him. I frowned softly. I should be sad probably, but I was so content hearing the soft song behind me. I turned and stepped in its direction again. Barely there fingertips turned my head and I watched Talon lay me down carefully, smoothing hair away from my face gently. He stood slowly and let his head slowly fall back. Black flew up his arms, pooling in his eyes and covering every inch of him, claws extended from his hands and his head fell to the side, black eyes on the creature now huddled against the wall on the other side of the room. “Foolish.” A soft voice whispered, “Now he has only the merciless partner to deal with.” I didn’t know where the voice was coming from. Much like how I hadn’t been able to find the source of the fingers. It didn’t matter. I was focused on the strange little window. The Soul Eater made a break for it. It darted this way and that. Talon’s hands raised slowly, alternating. Wall after wall sprung up from the floor, blocking its escape. I watched Eon try to retrieve my body and Talon snarled, throwing Eon and our other friends through the open doorway with dark ropes of his Magik. A doorway of shadow slammed behind them and his head rolled back to the creature pounding its fists against a wall of writhing night. The room was being torn apart and the Soul Eater was running out of room quickly. It dove and Talon’s wrist flicked. Clawed hands slammed against another wall and eye sockets tore around, looking for another escape. There wasn’t one. Talon stalked closer, shoulders lifting as his breathing came harder and harder, mind completely lost to rage. That’s when the pleading and bartering started. The ancient creature tripped over itself, multiple voices screaming and crying arrangements promising Talon everything up to and including the very sun. Talon continued to close the distance, curved claws scraping along the walls, “You seem confused. How can you promise me the sun? How? When you…Took. It. From. Me.” Apparently, not completely out of tricks, the Soul Eater made one final desperate dive through Talon. Its form lost its substance and it made a beeline for my still form on the ground. In the chaos that was the chapel-debris, broken glass, ripped apart walls-there was a perfect ring around me. Not one scrap had touched me. “Time to go back little one. He won’t make it without you.” The window vanished and the floor dropped out from under my feet. I expected to hurtle through the air and slam to the ground, but no. It was slow. I floated down and was laid back into myself. I was able to peek my eyes open enough to see that the Soul Eater hadn’t reached me. I almost felt bad for the thing, but not quite. They were maybe ten feet away and I noticed my boot still in the things claws. Another set of claws marks marred the floor leading away from my feet. Talon’s Magik held it down, limbs and head pinned to the ground while black claws ripped it apart piece by piece. I was positive I would hear the layered cries of suffering, moans of pain, and guttural screams probably until the day I died. It deserved it. Who knew how many had suffered at its claws? It dawned on me that this was the first time I wasn’t shouldering a death. I wasn’t adding its demise to the list of sins I mentally berated myself for at night when I couldn’t sleep. More noises pulled me from my thoughts. I cringed away when I noticed it was reduced to a torso and Talon seemed committed to ripping its head off its body through brute strength alone. I forced down a gag when I heard the tell-tale ripping and yanking noises followed by a thunk. He was breathing hard, and I peeked my eyes open again. He was a little bit away from the body, or what was left of it. He sat on his knees, dust- caked hands limp in his lap, his head back, and his eyes were closed but I saw the moonlight catch glittering trails running down his cheeks. His eyes opened and his head fell forward as the rest of his body did. His shoulders shook and I tried to make some kind of noise, but I hurt and I was so dizzy. His barrier must have dropped because Eon and Wren burst into the room. Wren’s anger dissolved instantly into a look of pain as his eyes shifted from me to Talon. Eon staggered over to me with a disbelieving look on his face, eyes wide as he shook his head. Hanja rounded my brother and, not so softly, smacked the side of his head, “Out of the way. He’s alive you dramatic idiots.” Everyone looked to the healer, and I watched Talon face us. He pressed his palms to the ground and lifted himself up a bit, staring at me. I managed the smallest gasp and his eyes widened. With relief, I noticed they were mostly back to his normal color. He crawled across the ground and stared intently at my face as Hanja muttered in an annoyed voice. “Prepare for a very unpleasant headache lord.” Hanja sighed and I winced as my head flooded with pain. It only lasted a few seconds but it was blinding and I gasped, fingers dragging over the wood until hands gripped mine, “There. Verloren, if you could take a breath next time, I could heal him faster and you won’t have to blow a room off our dwelling.” Talon didn’t even acknowledge him. My eyes were half hooded, but I forced a small smile, “psycho.” “Yes.” He nodded without thought. He pushed himself up and his head landed on my chest, grey eyes scanning over my face, “I watched him bash your head into the ground. You stopped moving. The light…it left your eyes. I saw it.” I played weakly with his hair as Hanja stood and looked around the room, “Ridiculous. Can you imagine? Every time you get injured, I just level an entire room? Children. Immature children.” I caught Tyren’s worried expression as he looked me over before following after his partner, “You act like you aren’t the same way. You merely aren’t as explosive as the young masters.” “He’s right Kal. Y-you weren’t breathing.” I looked to Eon and reached for him when I noticed him wipe at his eyes. “I’m not sure what happened. Someone told me to come back, so I did.” I said softly, slightly uncomfortable with grey and blue eyes boring into me. “Well, how considerate of you.” Talon gave a pained crooked smile. Wren was hopping around on the bigger pieces of debris and jumped down to the ground. He ran a finger through a dark smudge on the ground and made a face. “We should all get to bed, Kal and Talon especially.” Eon nodded. I barely noticed them leaving. My eyes were on Talon’s. He was upset. I was so tired though. I knew I should broach the subject, we should talk, but right now I could barely keep my eyes open. I let my eyes fall close and Talon moved. An arm hooked under my knees and around my back. I was being carried. I must’ve dozed off because next I knew I was being laid down on something soft. * I woke up with a start, holding my chest and gasping. Another dream. At least this one had been a run of the mill one involving Lex and blood. I could deal with that. Those seemed almost tame to me now. I took while to calm down and wrapped my legs around my knees as I focused on my breathing, counting it out quietly to myself. I rested my cheek against my knee when my chest stopped heaving and I was able to take regular breaths. My heart rate slowed to normal and I took another few minutes to appreciate the view. Talon was stretched out on his stomach, one arm bent above his head while the other was tucked under him. His hair was a mess and I was pretty sure there was still a little bit of debris sprinkled amongst the dark locks. I leaned over and kissed softly over his deltoid and then over his trapezius. I smiled softly to myself as I recalled the muscle names. I pressed my lips softly down his spine and then back, nuzzling the nape of his neck. He shifted and rolled over. His arm extended behind me and I tucked myself into his side, sighing softly at the warmth as he rolled again. He wrapped both arms around me and his head rested on top of mine. Splaying my hands over his chest, I snuggled as close as I could get. Pressing soft kisses to his neck, I wiggled my hips against his. I nipped gently when he didn’t get the hint, using one of my hands to guide one of his down to my backside. I pulled back to look up at him when he slid the hand all the way up to rub my upper back, “What’re you doing?” “Rubbing your back.” He mumbled, voice gravelly from sleep. “Yes, but why?” I whined softly, nipping at his neck again. “I have thoughts.” I looked up at him and frowned when he wouldn’t meet my eyes as I waited for him to continue, “You came back because someone told you to. You didn’t come back for me. I know it’s fucking petty but…” I winced. Oh. Yeah. He pulled away and rolled onto his back, looking up at the ceiling. I pushed myself up a little, bending my arm under me for a little support as I looked down at him. Studying his face, I tried to figure out where exactly his head was. Was he actually upset about that or was it a cover for what he was actually mad about? My fingertips mapped the lines on his pec, the triangles’ points and jagged edges memorized by now. “You’re mad because I didn’t come back for you?” I asked softly. He shrugged off my touch, which hurt but I let it go as I watched him stare at the opposite wall, “I came back specifically for you more than once. I wanted to die more than once but you yanked me back.” I tilted my head to the side, “You’re right. I did. I felt you pull me back too. It’s whatever gave the voice a chance to convince me.” He looked at me then as if he didn’t believe me. I sighed and scooted closer, linking my fingers with the ones he’d left on his stomach, “Gotta remember that not everyone is as strong as you Talon. I can’t solider through pain the way you can. But I’ll always try. To come back to you, I mean.” I smiled up at him and he rested his face in my neck, “How many times have you met with it by yourself? What were you thinking?” “I told you all each time it happened!” I sighed as the conversation changed. Guess he was done sharing for the night. I froze as the entire conversation slammed into me. There was so much I needed to tell them all. “We need to get everyone together. Right now.” I sat up. “It’s the middle of the night. Does it have to be right-“ “Right now Talon!” He gathered them as fast as he could or wanted to. He was still not awake and half-asleep Talon had almost ended up brawling with half asleep Hanja in the middle of the hallway. It didn’t matter because now everyone was in the library. Hanja and Talon still looked grumpy. Eon wasn’t awake really and Wren looked bored. As I filled them in, my guilt compounded. Poor Amaris. The things I’d said to her, gods. “Well that explains how they managed to keep finding us. Seemed foolish to send soldiers over the border when you didn’t know where your target was. Not to mention if Dleth found out that’s an act of war.” Eon shrugged, rubbing a hand over his beard. “I wonder how much of our plan is already known to Anders then.” Hanja pinched the bridge of his nose, red eyes still bleary. Talon was crouched in front of me on the ground. He was silent, head tilted to the side as he listened to the others. He leaned forward a fraction and balanced himself by touching his long fingers to the ground. I kept quiet after I had relayed everything the Soul Eater had said. I felt guilty enough. Nothing they could say would be able to make me feel worse or better. As I watched Talon leaned harder on his fingers. I winced. That couldn’t be comfortable. They bent so much that one wrong move and I thought he might either break or at least hyper-extend them. Eon and Hanja were arguing over how much I may have ruined the whole mission when Talon sat up straight, his fingers popped and I winced, “Shut up. Both of you. It doesn’t make sense. If Anders knew every single move Kalian and whoever else made, how did we escape Lex?” “Of course, you would defend him.” Hanja sighed. “No. Listen Hanj. How was Mallex able to disobey Anders so catastrophically?” Tyren scooted himself up to sit straighter, smiling at me, “Mallex was supposed to execute us all, but he chose to keep us alive to get in Kalian’s good graces. Keeping us alive is what led to Anders’ entire plan self-destructing. Think! If he knew everything Lex and Kal were doing he would’ve stepped in the minute his captain disregarded his orders!” Talon nodded, hand covering mine as I gripped his shoulder, “There have to be limitations. Lex had to be deep under Anders control and he was still able to shake it off. Why? Is it distance? Is it the number of people under his control and how spread apart they are? It could be a number of things. Some times Kalian can’t seem to make heads from tails. Other times he’s smarter than any of us. If Anders fine tunes his skill to focus on one person, does his control on others or in other areas slip?” “Also, could your connection be blocking him somehow?” Tyren added, mumbling softly to himself. “I doubt he’ll be kind enough to tell us what his limitations are.” Wren mumbled into Eon’s shoulder. He’d fallen over slowly, the side of his face smashed against my brother’s bicep, side of his mouth held up around his fang. “Hanja do you think you can do anything about the connection to Anders?” Tyren asked, smiling excitedly at his partner. The healer frowned and looked me over, “I’m not sure. I don’t know that it’s an injury. I can try of course.” He rose gracefully, flicking dark robes behind him as he approached me. He pulled off his gloves and held his hands up on either side of my head. He hummed softly and I waited for his normal rambling diagnosis. It never came. His hands dropped and he was already shaking his head, “I can see that your Magik is off, as is your mind, but I can’t do anything about either.” “Worth a try.” I smiled softly up at him. “Alright, so now that we know that isn’t an option, we’ll have to figure out another one. We need to cement a plan in place for how we’ll deal with Anders which until you’re cleared, Kal you can’t be privy to.” Eon sighed in frustration. Talon held up his fingers, ticking them off one at a time and throwing up another hand when he ran out, “Settle on plan for Anders. Find Amaris and save if necessary. Figure out this mind-fuckery. Return to Dimian. Boot Anders into the afterlife, preferably violently. Save the country. Drown in wine while locking your brother and I in a hovel somewhere. See? Easy.” Eon sputtered and shook his head, trying to fight off a smile. Tyren laughed and Hanja rolled his pretty, but annoyed eyes. I pouted and turned to Talon, “A hovel? Really?” “Would you prefer a…shack with waterfront property?” Talon let his head fall back to grin at me upside down. “Why don’t we just go home? Either of the houses in Syrin or Krinn were fine.” I shook my head and giggled. “I don’t know about the manors after a war babe. Those are the first to get demolished or ransacked.” He frowned as he thought. “Good thing those aren’t at all what I meant.” I leaned forward and pressed my lips to his, wrinkling my nose at the strange angle. “Home.” His eyes stayed on my face as I sat back, a soft smile on his lips. “Yeah, yeah home. Can we fight the war first?” Wren snapped. “Yes, let’s get some things set in stone here.” Tyren nodded, getting up to grab paper and pencils. “Kalian…”I glanced over to Eon who frowned softly again. Ah, that was right. I couldn’t be here for this part. “Verloren. Sit. We need your input.” Hanja snapped. “But…” I smiled as I closed the door on Talon’s whine. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself now. I wandered to our bedroom and crawled onto the bed, snuggling myself under the covers. I felt a little left out, but I knew this was necessary. We weren’t sure how much information he could steal from me. I shook my head and instead thought about Amaris. I’d be able to help with that. Playing with the blanket I began to think. Anders and I had a connection. Talon and I did as well. While I was distinctly aware when the connection between Talon and me had been forged, I hadn’t felt the one with Anders. Did it work the same way? Did our powers’ shared lineage have any bearing on how much control he had or didn’t have over me? I rolled. Was it the reason Talon and I were connected? The Soul Eater and source of my power had been together as well. Mated whatever word they used. Were we drawn together? So much so that a bridge was formed between our very souls? If that was the case, I was sure the tether between Anders and I held none of the same affection. His power had been passed down. Ours had been given and taken, respectively. It was like…we had eaten grapes and he’d drank wine made from the same vineyard. I let out a breath and my eyes slid closed. The link between Talon and I was ever present and I was always aware of it. I concentrated harder. It was like looking through a room tightly packed with boxes. I shifted around and frowned when I continued to come up empty handed. I pushed harder and my mind drew my attention to something I had over looked earlier. It was barely there. A sickly, twisted little thing in the very back of my head, leeching into everything around it. The more I looked, the more I noticed it had tainted. My memories of Talon, my teachings and learning at the school, Athel, even laughing with Eon. I snapped my head around and balled my fists when I found the source. It wasn’t little at all. It looked like a poisoned root, attached to the wall of this image I’d created. I dug my fingers into it and felt a pulse. As I held on, my entire being was pulled. My vision flew over time and space. It slammed down into a foreign body. A simple dinner of two boiled potatoes and overcooked meat sat in front of me, untouched. The mind that wasn’t mine registered that by now it would be cold. “General?” My attention was dragged to a doorway as a soldier pushed it open, “We finally think we found all of the captain.” “Good. Send the pieces to his family. Charge them for the expense. Along with the paperwork for his dishonorable discharge.” I heard the cold, dead voice and my stomach dropped. “My lord?” The young solider looked like he was going to be sick, “Captain Nainde was unwell, but he was a good m-“ “I do not remember asking your opinion. Shall I draft more papers?” The solider scurried out. My host clapped his hands and a servant popped their head in. “Lord?” “Please, my guest.” After a short while, two guards in shabby red uniforms came in, escorting someone. “There has been no sign since the last attack. My family is getting suspicious. I have no other reason to stall them.” Anika. It was Anika. My heart dropped. Her bright hair was dull and her face looked haunted. I was used to seeing her in beautiful dresses, this one was dirty and the skirt was torn to shreds. You could catch glimpses of her bare legs in places. She’d never be seen like this. Neither her or my family would allow it. “I do hope you will think of something my dear. I have very little patience with your family as it is. Your brother is trying his best to ruin my life’s work. It was your wish to stay in the manor while plying your family with sugar coated lies. I obliged as a show of good faith for your initial assistance in the first attempt on his life. That only stretched so far. I do not care about their comfort or yours. If any of you become unruly you will be dealt with.” “Why do we have to stay here? How does it help you? Kalian doesn’t care about us! He doesn’t even know we’re here.” She collapsed to her knees and I took in how gaunt she looked. I rose with Anders as he calmly walked around a long, dark, oak table. He leaned down enough to tip her chin up. Her sapphire eyes looked more dull than I remembered, puffy from tears I hadn’t seen her shed. “Truly there was an unfair greatness distribution in your family.” He released her and circled around behind her, “To think, you pretty simple little thing, you thought it was stacked in your favor.” He let out a cruel peel of laughter and my heart hurt. Anika choked on a sob. “Also, I must inform you, my dear lady. Your brother is now very aware of exactly where you are. Aren’t you Kalian?” The edges of my vision tinged purple and I forced myself back as hard as I could. Purple cords sprung out of the dark as Anders separated his mind from mine. I pulled my consciousness back faster, as fast as I could, running from the strange violet bands as they tried to pull at me. I snapped back into myself and threw up my walls. Power slammed against my mental sheilds. I had almost been too slow. I heaved oxygen into my lungs and with every shred of power I could muster, slammed that purple poison from my mind. I felt him fight it. I grit my teeth and rolled my head on my shoulders. He didn’t get this. He didn’t get to seep into the few happy memories I’d collected for myself over the last year. Talon’s smirk flashed through my head, Tyren’s bright eyes and patient voice, Wren’s crazed grin, the hugs I’d received from Eon, Hanja’s rare tender moments, and the friendship Amaris had gifted me. “No. Fuck you.” I rammed everything that was Anders from my head and felt something snap. Light bloomed in my chest and rushed to fill my entire body, burning everything else away. A huge rush of air slammed our windows open, the shutters smacking and I lost my balance, hitting the ground hard. I hacked and coughed, hitting my chest hard. I lay there for a long time. I had done something wrong. Anders was gone. That part was right. So was everything else though. The tether with Talon was like a gaping hole in my mind and I blinked, staring blindly at the floorboard across from me. He was gone too. *Talon* Head wounds are some of my least favorite. They’re disorientating on top of pain. It’s sort of like being drunk without any of the fun and with the added bonus of a lot of blood. They made you stupid, stumbly. That was only fun when you planned for it. Eon should know. I hadn’t had one other than be deafened in a while. We’d finished up planning something that may actually have a chance when I felt a certain wrongness. It was only an irritant at first and then I started to figure out it had to do with Kalian and maybe I should get off my ass. I stood and it was like a hot iron had been driven through my head, pulled out, and then driven in at a different angle. The string of curses that I lined up might’ve impressed me if I could focus on anything other than the pain. Were my eyes melting out of my head? Was my skull liquifying along with them? Holding my head, I gripped the couch and dragged myself to my feet. Fuck, had I always been this tall? Gods, I was far from the ground. That was going to hurt if I went down. People were talking at me but their voices were muffled and I knew pain and Kalian. That was it. Using the wall and whatever poor furniture my hands found, I struggled to the door. Things crashed behind me and at one point I think I stepped on glass. I didn’t feel it. Nothing rivaled the pain in my brain. We were already on the second floor. That was good. I didn’t know if stairs were in my current skill set. Another wave of pain hit me and I staggered. Luckily, I caught myself on the hallway wall. With my face. I groaned and pressed my free palm against the wallpaper and took a break. Did the wallpaper always have spinning flowers? I squinted but decided that hurt too much and held my head with both hands. Giant hands lifted under my armpits and I tried to look around, but moving my head that way was a no go. “Hey, slow down. What’s going on?” That voice…was familiar maybe. “Head fumkin hurts. Kali did sumfin.” Mentally patting myself on the shoulder for my eloquence, I almost heaved when my arm was hauled over wide shoulders, “fumkin big.” “Yeah, yeah.” Weird orange hair with an almost brown hue came into view along with a horrendous beard. Oh Eon then. “Mm should shave. Grosssss color.” My head lolled back and the base of my skull sent a spike of pain through to my forehead that made me whine. “Gods he’s like a giant baby. Hanja, you’re following right?” My head fell forward and the front of my head followed suit with another jolt of pain. “Yes, unfortunately.” Came a cool reply. “Muverfumker.” I was dropped inelegantly on something soft and felt cold ass hands on my face. I heard familiar mumbling and then grit my teeth as a red light appeared on the other side of my eyelids. “Is he okay?” Tyren was the only one who sounded nervous. I always knew I liked him best. He was my new favorite. “Hey,” I winced as a clawed hand smacked my cheek, hard. I flinched at the light as I opened my eyes to glare up at bright rose colored ones, “He’s fine.” I jerked up and didn’t have to look far. Kalian was sitting cross legged on the floor, wiping his mouth with the back of his sleeve. My whole world spun for a second and I laid back down, “This isn’t fair. I’m not even drunk or injured. I didn’t earn this.” “I severed the connections.” I heard Kalian’s soft voice drift up from the floor. He was upset. He was using the tone of voice he used when he was sad and thought he was doing a really good job hiding it. I reached out to send some comfort or at least something…unwholesome over the link. I reached out and came back with nothing. His words caught up with me then. Connections. Plural. He’d severed both. “Why?” I asked, not sure I really had emotions for this particular situation in my limited arsenal. I stared up at the cobwebbed ceiling. It felt strange to mourn the loss of a thing I had only had a very small part of my life, but I was. I was sad. I had gotten used to it. I liked having it as much as he did. “I didn’t mean to. I was trying to help! I went through my head and found Anders’ tether. It pulled me to him and I saw…I saw…Eon he has our family!” I winced at the abrupt change of subject, nodding to myself. The group was now focused on that. The Alauis family rescue mission. They could fuck off and die. The lot of them. I hoped it fuckin’ hurt. For some reason I had a weirdly vivid fantasy of someone stomping on his sister’s ridiculous red hair. Scalping was a thing. Bitch. I grimaced and steered myself away from the darker thoughts I’d been fighting so well up until this point. He’d been trying to get rid of Anders and got rid of them both. It’s not like there were instructions. There wasn’t a guidebook to this. He’d been guessing. It was an honest mistake. This wasn’t an ongoing problem or anything. I always got to have a say in the decisions that affected me. It wasn’t like Kalian had made a huge decision by himself and fucked my entire life aga- I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. My head felt so empty. I took another breath. I ignored the total absence of the reassuring press of his mind against mine. The next breath got caught halfway into my lungs and I coughed. Just me again. Here alone in the dark with my memories and feelings. I gripped the blankets under my fingers. Fuck when had I started leaning on him so much? It wasn’t even that I needed him to know every sordid detail. Just the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in my head for once. There was someone there with me. Someone who loved me and wouldn’t leave me. But he would have. He stayed for someone else. Someone else told him to come back and he thought, eh why not? I struggled in that shit box wagon for days reeking of blood and fuck knows what else while my body screamed through panic mode, for him. Bones broken, wounds infected, so delirious from pain that I barely knew who he was and I still listened to his stupid fucking voice when he asked me to stay. Maybe it was good the connection was gone. These thoughts would do irreparable damage to him and I wasn’t sure if I meant them or my fucking feelings were hurt. Ah yes, in Talon’s Limited Selection of Emotions I had chosen anger. A classic. An old standby. Did I have time for a hissy fit? No. Would I make time? Oh, yes baby. I gripped the sheets and stood. Staggering for a second as I shook the dizziness from my head. Violet eyes looked up at me in concern and I couldn’t get out of the room fast enough. If I had to throw myself down the stairs to make it work, I would. I needed to not be wherever he was right now.
  6. Demiurge

    Sever

    @Philippe no, you are! Wren is a trained medical professional
  7. Demiurge

    Parting

    @headtransplant yeahhh I 100% think that bridge would be of his own creation as well
  8. Demiurge

    Schemes

    @headtransplant I’m glad you appreciate him He’s one of my favorites. He deserves all the things. Also, yeah weird Eon, people deserve to be treated like people. Who woulda thought?
  9. Demiurge

    Parting

    @headtransplant I mean…I am captain of the cheer team for Talon so it’s weird to me when he isn’t everyone’s favorite 🤣
  10. Demiurge

    Enough

    @headtransplant I feel like that’s Talon’s whole personality. You either love him or hate him. I literally just picture him like lifting up horrifically charred fingers and being like…✨jazz hands✨
  11. Demiurge

    Drop

    We sat in the dingy, but well-appointed library. There were so many books that I couldn’t help but wonder if it was possible to get through them all in one lifetime. I’d bet Wren could get through them, but I wasn’t sure I’d ever really seen him read for fun. My hastily drawn picture of Anders’ war map sat among the correspondence between him and Lex. Added to that were the papers I’d found in the other tent Talon had taken me to the night we’d escaped from Lex once and for all. Laid out altogether, it looked like a great confused mess, but my allies seemed to be pairing things up and surmising information and a tentative timeline of what had been happening under our noses. “Lex disobeyed his orders at almost every turn it seems. Anders was obviously intelligent, but he began trusting the brunt of his forces and crucial missions to a mad man.” Eon said as he read through a letter scribbled in Lex’s hand. That was a noticeable change. As the letters between them progressed, Lex’s handwriting became worse. Through his penmanship, you could track his descent into full blown madness. He’d hidden it well, but I was thankful. I’m not sure if any of us were aware of how bad he was getting. “It made sense to have us all killed. Talon and Kalian especially. Wren as well. I doubt he enjoyed having someone within the palace who had as many resources as he did and was capable of keeping tabs on him.” Tyren mused, fingers running over the letter that’d detailed the Queen’s “appeasement”. “Perhaps dear old Lex did us a favor? He underestimated Kalian right up until the end.” Talon’s eyes scanned my crude drawing, finger pointing to the single Dlethian unit creeping towards Krinn, “That is not a mistake. That was a carefully calculated maneuver on his part to get rid of Kalian before he even got to Syrin. It seems, our friend Anders has been playing this game far longer than any of us were aware it existed. Maybe Mallex included.” “Mallex was a pawn. I wouldn’t be shocked if his mind’s shatter was his general’s doing. Maybe in his rush to have a fresh new face still tied to the military under his control, he tipped Lex into insanity?” Hanja affirmed, eyes on Talon’s finger, “I assume also, that he didn’t count on Kalian collecting allies from and away from home. He thought that he’d get there, this naïve little lord, and be swept into a marriage and that’d be the end of it. He wasn’t prepared to have an actual threat on his hands. Now, he’s scrambling. Hence this Dimian Crusade. It’s sloppy. It spits in the face of all the years of preparation Anders had previously been doing.” “Why?” I asked, confused. An army was still an army after all… “Mercenaries are not a loyal force. They fight for material things or their own benefit. If things sway in a non-beneficial direction there’s a higher chance, they may simply desert. Syrin’s soldiers are trained and fight for the king. They take oaths and will gladly die for that king and country. I wonder if Anders is having more trouble swaying the armed forces than he thought. It’s possible it grew even harder for him when Lex died.” Eon thought aloud, rubbing his scruff-covered chin. “It probably doesn’t help morale when a captain, a brother in arms, goes crazy and a general starts throwing together a sloppy force of paid swords to possibly stand against the king you’ve sworn your life to protect.” Talon nodded, teeth pressing into his lower lip. ”When I was asking around court, Lex had an overall positive reputation. As crazy as he was at the end, he worked his way up through the ranks the old fashioned way. He was loved by his men. Anders…backstabbed and manipulated his way into power. He isn’t well liked among the regular men.” Eon explained. “What’s our plan then?” Tyren tilted his head, shuffling the papers around. “The students must be a priority and if there is fighting it must be kept as far away from the school grounds as possible.” Hanja insisted, eyes fierce. “Anders will know you both feel that way and if it comes to it that will be his first distraction.” Talon straightened, eyes growing dark. Wren nodded slowly, resting an illustration of the school on top of the papers we were looking at. “How can you know that?” Amaris spoke up suddenly. She’d been so quiet; I’d almost forgotten that she was sitting on the other side of the room. Her arms were crossed over her chest, long hair let loose for once. “Because” Talon glanced up at her and smiled sadly, “It’s what I would do. You hit them where it hurts. You hit them where it will rile up their emotions the most so that they aren’t running on logic and reason. They’re more apt to do something stupid then. Something rash. Why do you think he ‘accidentally’ allowed Lex to hint at what had been done to me? He then was all too happy to contribute details. He knew it would hurt. He knew Kalian would go after me and he set the trap. He unfortunately didn’t set a big enough one.” Amaris fell quiet. Our entire group did for a few minutes. We had known early on that what we were walking into wasn’t good. We’d gone anyway. We could have easily all died. We were supposed to if Lex’s letters were to be trusted. Only his strange obsession with me had pulled us through to see another day. The inside of my lip was raw and yet I kept biting at it. Things could have ended so differently. I wasn’t stupid. This was unlike anything I’d ever done before. People were going to get hurt. My people maybe. I tried to link together all that they were saying. I tried to line it all up in neat order so that I could reach the end point they were all inching towards, but I couldn’t. My brain wasn’t working. My friends kept talking. Would this Crusade stand against the army proper? Was part of the army still loyal to the king and would they come to his aid if we raised the flag announcing Anders’ treason? Would they follow a rag tag group of misfits that had already been accused of treason officially? Was the poor queen even alive at this point? As hard as I tried, my thoughts spun in circles, chasing their own tails. It was okay in the end because I had the rest of the group who were able to cobble together a rough plan. I didn’t hear it. I frowned. I could see their mouths moving, but I had no idea what conclusion they’d come to. Talon looked excited as did Eon. Wren smiled down at his claws and Hanja was nodding as if he was agreeable for once. What was happening? What had we decided? “I don’t know what’s going on.” I forced the words out. “It’s okay love,” Talon’s palm rested on my cheek, “Nothing is set in stone. We’re going to lay everything in place after we’ve had a break. We’ve been at this since lunch and it’s near eight at night.” “Rah and Loren could know if the Queen’s alive. Is it weird that Anders knows who she is and let her come after you no questions asked?” Talon smiled down at me and linked our fingers as we walked. For some reason his answers were making me even crazier. “Good points. We’ll have to bring them up to the group. Loren and Rah may have to join us for part of the discussion. They may have valuable information. We don’t know anything about this Crusade as either.” Talon kissed my forehead as we meandered to the kitchen to scrounge up something to eat. “Or should I let you live and let your curse eat you alive?” “Has he hurt you yet?” I watched Talon’s hand rise over Wren’s head, face twisted in a snarl and eyes devoid of recognition. He’d stopped. He had stopped himself. Except he didn’t this time. His claws cut through the air and raked over Wren’s face and chest. Wren’s body jerked, still tightly held in Talon’s grip. The claws were scraping forward, digging, and Wren’s head lolled back. His pink eyes were dull and vacant, mouth agape. His body dropped to the ground, and he lay there limply. I covered my mouth as the room around me melted away. Everything was black now. It was just Talon, Wren, and me. Blood spilled from Wren’s open lips, and I tried forcing my eyes away from the bloody hole in his chest. There was movement next to him. Talon stood to his full height; pale skin lost entirely to the corruption he’d wrought upon himself. He barely stood out against our surroundings. I could see his outline as it stalked toward me. I took a step back. “Has he hurt you?” I took two steps back, one right after the other. “Has he hurt you?” I was back pedaling quickly now, trying to track him with my eyes. “Hurt you?” He didn’t move any faster. It was a steady pace, but somehow, I never gained any distance even as I practically sprinted backwards. “Kal? What’s wrong?” It wasn’t Talon’s voice. A black hand reached out of the dark and I couldn’t figure out how I was able to see the blood dripping from it. Wren had faded into the background. I had no idea how far we’d moved from him. The hand grabbed for me, and I cringed away, “What are you doing?” Anger. He was getting angry. Claws swiped for my face again and my feet got tangled in each other. I tripped and fell backwards. I landed against something solid and strong hands helped me up, holding me against a broad chest. “Remember when I told you he couldn’t make you happy?” Hands gripped my chin roughly in a way that was all too familiar, and I bit my tongue hard. I tasted blood in my mouth. A light blinked on overhead, and it hurt my eyes. Talon stepped into it. His skin was completely black like I had thought, claws longer than I had ever seen them, and fangs hanging well past his upper lip. Onyx eyes looked at me and who held me, confusion on his face. “Oh no, liebe. I’m not sure the monster knows who you are.” A laugh sounded right by my ear, and I winced as Lex’s fingers dug into my jaw. At least he had skin here. He was normal this time. Skin, hair, and he lacked the stages of decomposition. Talon looked between the two of us, back and forth. Almost like an animal not sure what it was looking at. A low growl vibrated across the space and Talon’s body tensed. “Oh, that’s my cue love. Enjoy the choices you made.” Lex laughed again and suddenly his body left mine and his presence was absent entirely. I stumbled back and glanced behind me. There was a shift in the air around me and a blinding pain in my chest. I turned slowly. Claws, Talon’s claws, inside my chest. All the way through. I sputtered, blood spilling from my mouth as I looked up at him in shock. His head tilted as he looked down at me, still zero recognition on that near demonic, perfect face. Wavy graphite hair fell into his eyes. He leaned down slowly. I coughed, blood spraying over his cheeks and lips. His hand ripped from my chest, pulling a ragged, wet cry from my mouth. The same bloody hand cradled my face gently as his fangs ripped my neck apart. Our normal group was used to my screaming by now. There had been no one to slam our door open. No one rushed down the hall to make sure I wasn’t being attacked. Talon had startled awake of course, worry etched all over his face, but I had talked the whole thing away. I had been able to hide the dream from Talon verbally and through my mental walls. On those fronts I’d been golden, but he’d seen my face. The raw terror I knew was displayed there. He wouldn’t have taken it well had I told him. I stood in the church’s kitchen now, rubbing my tired eyes as I willed my heartbeat to slow. What was that? I’d never had a dream where he hurt me. Not once. Was this the Soul Eater’s doing? Was it still influencing me somehow? I closed my eyes and placed my palms flat on the cool tile countertop. He’d be worried, upset. I’d run from the room with some excuse about needing to walk off my anxiety. The truth was I had woken up, seen his face, and felt his teeth sink into my skin again. I’d felt the blinding pain of sharp teeth ripping through my throat. I gripped the edge of the counter as I gasped for breath. Talon would never do that. Any of it. He’d stopped himself with Wren. He’d done it by himself. No one had even helped him. Would anyone have been able to? With Wren overpowered, who physically could have stopped him? I forced the tiny voice down in my mind. My breathing was still erratic and there was no way I could face him like this. We needed more answers. I didn’t know if this corruption was triggered every time, he used his gift or if it was just when he used a great amount of it. He’d said at one point that he could feel something trying to take over. Was that what had happened with Wren? Was that what my dream was trying to warn me against? I chewed the skin on the side of my nail and let my eyes slip closed again. My thoughts were scrambled, and it seemed it would be yet another night where I was unable to draw any conclusions. I had no idea what time it was. I needed to figure out my panic and get upstairs before Tyren decided it was time to start his morning and get breakfast preparations underway. Food. That was another issue I needed to address with the group. Ever since the contact with the Soul Eater had started, food held no appeal for me. It tasted like I was eating ash or on occasion, blood. It seemed to go hand in hand with the dreams of Lex. There was a lot I needed to tell them it seemed. I sighed and let my head fall back. This new dream too. We’d promised to be honest with each other as a group. I couldn’t start withholding things again. It was going to hurt Talon. I could see his face now. “Are you okay?” I jumped and almost fell over as Rah slowly came into the kitchen. She wore a thin black robe, and her hair was a mess, flattened on one side. It made me smile. She looked young for once. “Yes, sorry. I have awful dreams. I should have warned you. This one was a little worse than they have been. I thought I had them under control. I haven’t had a really bad screaming one since you two joined us.” I rubbed the back of my neck, and she came to stand at the edge of the counter, resting her hands on the top of it. She was roughly three feet away and I noticed she didn’t have her blindfold. Her white lashes were almost translucent as she blinked in the moonlight, and under them I saw the faintest grey in her irises. “I have dreams as well. You don’t need to apologize. My brother doesn’t…comfort you when you have dreams?” I started at her word choice and smiled to myself. I wondered how Talon would react to it? “He does, but sometimes I need to be alone.” She seemed to consider, stretching long arms out over the counter, turning her face more into the light as if she could feel it like warm sunlight. Her eyelids fluttered closed, and I turned to look out the windows that sat on the opposite wall as well. “We are going to leave.” She whispered after a few minutes. Her words dropped like stones between us, sending ripples over the silence that spread anxiety through me. “But why? You and Talon have found each other, and I’m sure have much to talk about. We’ve invited you into our group. There’s no reason for you to leave now.” I wanted to reach for her hands that were still outstretched but instead kept mine flat on the counter. Her head turned to me, eyes large and filled to the brim with emotion, “It is strange to be wanted somewhere. I’ve never known a person like you Kalian.” She looked away, eyes filled with the pale light streaming into the room, “He’s going to ask the girl to come with us. They are together as we speak.” I brought my arms close to my body, letting her words sink in, “They barely know each other. There’s no way she’ll agree to go with two complete strangers.” “She agreed to go with your group, didn’t she? Wren was the only one familiar to her, correct? Either way, I’m glad we met.” She smiled sadly in my direction and left the room, her hand outstretched in front of her. I looked around the simple kitchen. It’s yellowed tiled and black cabinets showed their age and half the handles were chipped or broken completely off. The only evidence that it wasn’t abandoned was the food we left out on counters for future use. Amaris would never go with them. There was no way. She didn’t know Loren and Rah. We were her friends, her family. I worried my lip between my teeth, skimming my finger over the round curve of an apple. It teetered towards me, and I let it roll into my palm. I lifted it to my lips, hesitating. I shook my head and took a bite. At first it was crisp, the juice refreshing and then it shifted. The apple’s flesh was like flakey ash in my mouth, the juice blood. I gagged and set the apple down, grimacing as I forced down the single small bite. It was getting worse. When it had started it hadn’t been this bad. The strange sensation had built over time. I was able to clear a plate. Then it was half, a fourth, and now I couldn’t even stand a bite. It had only been a few days for gods’ sake! I held my hand over my mouth until I was sure I wouldn’t retch and gripped the counter when a shape shot by the window. A dark figure, fast, tattered edges the only thing I managed to see with any real surety. It was back again. Physically this time. Through the door to the next room, I went. It was a small formal dining room that had a set of black French doors that led onto a small patio. I stood in the center of the room. A silhouette was outlined against the curtained panels of the French doors. So, I was right. It was back. Stepping forward slowly, I wrapped my fingers around the long horizontal door handle. I heard the whispers, excited, nervous, angry. The wind outside had picked up, but it was nothing like what we’d felt the night the monster had attacked us. I pressed my ear to the peeling black paint and closed my eyes as I listened. “Child.” “You are back. What for this time?” My tone clipped, a few voices hissed and some whined. Were there even fewer voices this time? In my dreams and when we’d fought it, there had been so many. A chorus, a hurricane of different voices all trying to be the loudest to drown the others out. Now there were only a few. “The man. He’s done something. I grow weaker.” “How unfortunate for you.” I shrugged against the door. A gust of wind rattled the glass in the door’s panes, but it held strong. “He’s taking my power.” That changed things. I bit my lip and considered. If Anders was able to steal the Soul Eater’s essence, his Magik, we’d be in a great deal of trouble. It was already obvious that Anders was powerful. With this monster tacked on, he’d be unstoppable. The others needed to know. This was a huge shift in plans we hadn’t even made yet. “How do I know you’re not lying?” The doors shook weakly, and the Soul Eater made strange gasping and shrieking noises. A hand smacked limply at the wood and glass over my head, and I recognized the bony elongated fingers. It couldn’t force its way in. Not like before. It didn’t have the strength. “I will…I will help you save your mate. Your power…it’s owner was mine too.” I flinched at the archaic term and narrowed my eyes. Wren had said more than once that out of all the ancient creatures of legend he’d grown up with, the Soul Eater never made deals with humans. But it had said that it would make a deal since my power was derived from its kin. Or apparently it’s mate. I rubbed my temples and closed my eyes. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t come to final decisions. It felt like there was some kind of block in my mind and I had no idea how to break through. “I will help you with…that as well and the food.” I gripped the handle tighter and grit my teeth. It was responsible for this then. I should’ve known. Throwing open the door I raised my hands and got ready to blast the creature that was bound to attack me. Only it didn’t. Gone was the imposing figure that’d accosted us in the woods. The one that’d snapped Talon’s wrists as if they were tiny sticks and ripped Wren’s side open as if he were nothing. He was still taller than me but stood closer to Talon’s height now. He was hunched over, arms tucked to his chest almost feebly as he stared at me from his strange eyeless sockets. The mist around his head was absent and his cloak hung limply around him, few faces trapped in the otherworldly fabric. “First, Talon.” I ordered, eyes still trying to process that what stood before me was the creature that it had taken all of us to hold down in the woods. “You must first agree to help me with the human who drains my soul.” “Anders will be stopped.” I snapped, “You will tell me how to stop whatever is happening with Talon.” A bony finger rose, and I watched it waver, “The boy has cursed himself, but still possesses a pure heart. There is a book. It is the Leviticum’s sister. It holds his spell’s reverse. It is not Parler Noir, but Disputatio and Zunge combined. Be warned though, child, if he pushes the tainted part of himself too far, there will be no reversal.” “Great. Where’s this book?” The horrifying black hole mouth widened in what I thought might be an amused grin. I lifted my hand and it winced away from me. That was a wonderful feeling. “It was gifted.” “To whom?” “This country’s ruling family.” I paused. Why on earth would the Dlethian royal family have any use for a book of spells? I glared at the being in front of me and tried to discern from the lack of facial features whether I was being misled. “Why?” “I have helped you with your first dilemma. Surely now, in good faith you will- “ “I will do nothing for you until you answer all of my questions. Why isn’t my thinking…why can’t I…?” I frowned, unsure how to even put it into words. I had missed the glaring fact that Talon and Rah were siblings. One part of my brain always seemed at odds with the other. Connecting dots to help my friends come to any kind of solution was impossible. That strange grin again, “I will visit tomorrow. I will explain.” It blinked out of existence, and I growled in frustration. Stupid, vague thing. “Kal?” Amaris padded into the room; her feet were bare. Her hair was still down, and she pulled some of it over her shoulder as she studied me. I’m sure I looked strange. I was standing in the dining room in the middle of the night with the outside doors open, the freezing cold air blowing through the thin tunic I wore. I wasn’t even wearing real pants. Just underclothes and a borrowed tunic that hung to my thighs and was made of black silk. It may have been Talon’s favorite and he may also have been looking for it for a month. I shoved my messy bedhead out of my face and eased the doors closed. “What’s going on? I heard voices.” She frowned at me, and I glanced over her thin, short, slip of a dress. So, we seemed to be in equal states of undress at least. “Uh, Soul Eater again. Talking in circles. Generally being a nuisance and terrorizing me.” She smiled nervously and took another step forward. She was acting strange for some reason. “Is something wrong Ris?” I crossed the small distance between us and rested my hand on her bare shoulder, concern growing. She leaned against me, and the side of her head rested against my shoulder. “You remember yesterday when we were talking about what I wanted out of life and how I wasn’t sure I was positive what that was?” Dread. It started small. A tiny ball in the pit of my stomach. It rolled and rolled in on itself while I tried to find words to say. I tried to make myself speak even though I was scared that I might know where this conversation might be going. “Mhm.” I mumbled intelligently, clearing my throat as I wrapped an arm around her thin shoulders. It was cold down here and I had held the door open for quite a while. “Kalian I’ve been starting to think for a while that maybe…maybe it’s uh…” Amaris trailed off, her voice pained. That ball rolled tighter as it got bigger, expanding painfully up into my chest. What Rah had said earlier came back and it felt like that ball was cracking my ribs open from the inside. “I think that maybe I’m not going to find it with the rest of you.” My whole body went stiff, and she rushed on, “Of course, I will still help with Anders, but maybe in a different way than we all originally planned. Loren said that there’s a lot of unrest in Dimian. The military, the civilians. People are unhappy. He thinks that with a little push they could be, ugh what was the word he used, unified? Rallied? I don’t know, something to stand against Anders and his grab at the throne. Loren has so many ideas Kal. He’s so smart. I mean he was royalty. He was raised to you know… be royal. I ju- “ “You want to leave with him. You want to leave us.” My voice was hollow, and I pulled my arms away from her, stepping away to create distance between us. She closed her eyes for a moment, “Wouldn’t you want to? I love you Kal. You’re my best friend, but I’m so sick of getting lost in a sea of super powered people. At least with Rah and Loren, I feel like an equal. I don’t feel like an afterthought.” “This conversation feels oddly familiar.” My nose wrinkled and I crossed my arms, “Also, as happy as I am that Talon found Rah. We still don’t know them. You want to go with them just like that? How can you trust them so easily?” “You want to compare? Kalian you’re a fighter now. Novice or not. It doesn’t matter when you call the FUCKING SUN.I trusted you! Hanja! Tyren! Eon! I didn’t know any of you! I trusted you with my life and I hated you! How is this any different!” It was like a slap in the face, made worse by Rah using the same defense earlier. Had they all discussed this together? Had Loren and Rah helped her strategize for this conversation? “We’re family now! You can’t just go! You can’t just decide like that! Are you even going to ask the others what they think?” “You don’t get to tell me what to do. I don’t care what any of you fucking think! “What’s going on?” Talon blinked as he entered the room. His hair was a mess and he hadn’t bothered with a shirt. He was looking between the two of us with raised brows as he rubbed sleep from his eye. Our volume had been climbing with Amaris’ last words being a literal scream. My anger doubled as Loren followed behind Talon, leaning against the doorframe. His eyes scanned over Talon’s bare torso, and I let out a hiss. It wasn’t his fault really. I knew that. But his smug expression paired with my own hurt made me want to explode. “You’re infatuated with him. I feel like you’ve romanticized him Ris! He’s literally checking out Talon as we speak!” Talon and Amaris’ eyes both snapped to Loren who held up his hands and raised his eyes to a polite level. Talon rolled his and moved closer to me. “Again, what’s going on. Why are you two screaming?” Talon’s head tilted to the side, raking over the two of us. “I would like to know as well.” Eon stumbled into the room, Wren springing onto his back at the last minute. Pink eyes glowed in the moonlight as they studied Loren. “They’re leaving. Amaris wants to leave with them.” I snapped, ignoring Amaris’ sharp look. Loren leaned more fully against the doorframe, chuckling softly as if this was the funniest thing he somehow found humor in this. “I assume we are referring to the lecher and my, uh, sister.” Talon ground out, wincing at the last word, “If so, Amaris is an adult. I think it’s a bad idea, but it’s her choice. No one is required to stay in this group.” I stared at him as Eon added, “As long as we can trust them to keep their mouths shut. Amaris doesn’t know our final plans, but she does have some of our intel which could prove to be dangerous.” “I would never share anything our group has planned or talked about with anyone else. I’m Verseckt trained. I’m trained to never give up information.” Amaris scowled. “When you were chummy with Lex before you decided to help with Talon, did that extend to Anders? Tell me, how exactly has his pretend army been finding us?” I tilted my head to the side and then blinked, covering my mouth. Where had that come from? I had honestly forgotten our conversation when she’d forced me to divulge the details of my relationship with Talon. That had been water under the bridge for a long time. “Kalian.” Talon stared at me, eyes wide. Eon looked troubled and Wren was glaring down at me. “I only said I was spending time with Lex to hurt you and Talon. Kalian that was so long ago. We weren’t even friends then. How could you throw that in my face now?” Amaris’ eyes were huge, betrayal welling up in the form of tears. My mouth seemed to open by itself, vocal cords possessed, “Oh really, you just overheard that entire conversation between Mallex and Anika? They let you have a front row seat, did they?” Tears ran down Amaris cheeks and she dragged her forearm over them and stomped from the room. Loren gave me a winning smile that ended in a wink and followed her. My hand was clamped over my mouth again and once I registered my own poisonous words I dashed after her. Talon caught my arm gently and avoided my eyes. Wren had dropped down and blocked the doorway, gaze filled with rage. Wren had never pointed that look in my direction. Eon was even staring at me as though he’d never seen me before. What was going on with me? Was I losing my mind? It was cold. It was dreary. It was pretty on par by this point for a morning in Dleth. We stood in front of the church. Loren was making sure everything was squared away and Rah stood with her back to us, face turned to what little sunlight managed to stream through the dense clouds. I kept my eyes on the ground to avoid seeing the third person beside Rah. Amaris stood with her pack secured to her back, coat half buttoned and hair in two, neat, tight braids on either side of her head. Her lips were painted her normal scarlet and I’d seen the same painted on Rah’s as well. It seemed they were already bonding. She’s already replacing you. It’s easy. They’ll all do it eventually. Replace you. You’re not special. I closed my eyes at the mean voice that pierced through my brain. I stood a tiny distance away from my group. Talon had been distant, as had Eon. Wren had been downright hostile. Poor Tyren and Hanja must’ve been caught up at some point by someone and seemed to be attempting to remain neutral. I hadn’t spoken to Amaris since our argument last night. I hadn’t been given the chance to apologize for the words that had bubbled out of my mouth like poisonous tar. I still had no idea where they had come from. I rubbed my side gently. The cold seeped through my coat and I made myself look up. Loren was making a great show of buttoning up the top of her coat and she shoved him playfully. He smirked and yanked the end of one of her braids. It’d been a matter of days. When had they developed this comfortable back and forth? Had I been blind to it? Lost in my own happy relationship? We stood awkwardly in two lines, facing each other once they were ready to go. Some shifted awkwardly on their feet and the atmosphere was restless. Tyren being Tyren started the goodbyes and bridges the gap. He’d made them a small number of rations and he hugged Amaris hard. She wiped at her eyes after holding onto him tight. She turned to Hanja who raised his hand awkwardly in a wave. She threw her arms around his neck, and Hanja went rigid. Slowly his arms wrapped around the girl, and he pressed a kiss to the side of her head. Eon ruffled her hair, and they shared an adoring smile. Wren wrapped himself around her and they clung to each other for a long stretch of time. She hid her face in his neck and he stroked her braids gently. When she pulled back, he looked uncomfortable as he always did after outward displays of affection. He caught her hands before she went too far. He held them in his and pressed them to his forehead in a gesture I’d never seen. Her eyes went wide, and she was back in his arms, tears spilling freely. He patted her back, clearly over his limit now. She broke away and the smile she gave him was blinding. She now stood in front of Talon who rubbed his neck, “Uh, hey. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if after all of this you came out alive. So maybe, ya know, try for that.” She laughed and punched him hard in the side, “I’ll do my best moron.” She turned to me, and her smile faltered. I didn’t know whether to step out from behind Talon or stay where I was. Did she want to say goodbye to me? Had I hurt her feelings too much? Had I burned that bridge? We stared at each other, and I took a deep breath. Even if she rejected me, I would know that I had tried. I had to try. She moved at the same time, and we were hugging. Her arms were around my neck, mine around her waist and she smashed me against her chest. I closed my eyes and winced when I heard someone clear their throat. “Little goddess, as sweet as all of the goodbyes have been, we have to get back on the road.” I glared at him over her shoulder and walked her over. “Loren.” “Oh. I believe, beautiful, that’s the first time you’ve used my name.” He grinned at me. I glanced over to where Talon had followed behind me. Not to join in my conversation with Loren, I noticed. He stood in front of Rah and as I watched he placed his ring in her outstretched palm, gently folding her fingers closed around it as he spoke to her. His words were too quiet for me to make out. I turned my attention back to Loren. “If any harm befalls my friend, especially if it’s your doing or fault, I will burn your soul from your fucking body.” I looked up at him, lilac eyes meeting one brown and one green. “Oh? I look forward to it little prince.” He laughed. I lunged forward, gripping his collar, and yanking him to me so we were nose to nose, “That is the only girl I will ever love. I am not kidding. This is not a joke. I. Will. Hunt. You. Down. I will wipe you from existence. There will be nothing left of your soul for the judges in the afterlife to weigh.” His eyes widened and the smile slowly melted from his lips, some emotion flashing through his unique eyes. His eyes ran over me in a very different way-an opponet sizing up an enemy. I released him and stepped back. Amaris gripped my hand for a moment, squeezing them and I returned the grip. I let go and turned. Talon’s arm wrapped around my shoulders as we walked back to stand in front of the church. Goodbyes said and preparations made, they set off without much more fuss. I wanted to cry like a baby, and I caught Tyren sniffling in the kitchen a bit later on but otherwise it seemed as if we were all in a daze. How had a part of us been taken away so easily? No one was hurt. No one was killed. She simply left. Just like that. I sat next to Talon at dinner and ignored my food, missing her vulgar humor, her boisterous laugh, and the mischievous smiles. The spot next to me was so empty. It was like a void in my life that was threatening to suck everything else in around it. I kept glancing to the chair. This wasn’t right. She belonged here with us. She was meant to be stabbing nails into my ribs as she teased me. I needed to have her lunging across me to taunt and jeer at Talon as they traded barbs. After dinner there would be no sitting at the end of my bed or sitting in the library working on our letters together. We wouldn’t dissolve into giggles over mispronunciations. I’d never wake up again to Talon carrying me to bed after we’d fallen asleep, him taking the couch as he arranged Amaris and I together. All at once I felt tears slipping down my cheeks and I felt foolish. It wasn’t the same kind of pain I’d felt when Talon had been taken from me, but it hurt in a similar way. It was a great absence of someone who was dear to me, someone I had made a place for in my life. A person I believed belonged there. I stood abruptly and Talon looked up at me, fork halfway to his mouth. His eyebrows rose, grey eyes unsurprised. He didn’t question it. Do you want me to come with? No. I left the kitchen, ignoring the looks of the others as I aimlessly wove my way through the church. I had no idea where I was going. My heart ached. I let the tears flow freely. It wasn’t a horrendous sobbing like I had done on the floor of the manor in Syrin, no. Snot all over my face as I clutched at whatever I could reach. No. It was controlled. I was just sad. It hurt and there was nothing I could do to fix it. I didn’t own Amaris. If she thought this could make her happy, who was I to stand in her way? I hadn’t apologized. I should have. I should never have let her leave without doing so. I swallowed hard and tried to give a name to this new emotion. I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt it before. It was awful and I hated it. I wanted her to be happy, but this absence was absolutely crushing. “You grieve child.” Grief. I was grieving. That couldn’t be right. I thought that was for when someone died? I chewed on my lower lip and shook my head. I was in a room full of boxes. It looked like it didn’t have a purpose anymore other than storage and a raccoon haven. It looked like perhaps it’d once been the chapel. Destroyed pews stacked and discarded. The shadowed figured slipped across a stained-glass window and then came to stand in front of it. As I watched the Soul Eater slipped through the glass and dropped to its feet heavily on the ground in front of it. I watched with extraordinarily little emotion. It seemed weaker than it had last night, smaller too. “He drains me. I haven’t much time left.” “I suppose you should talk fast then.” I sighed, sitting on a splintered, overturned piece of wood. “Did your little friend leave with the silver-tongued man?” My heart skipped, “How do you know about any of that?” A spindly hand reached out for my face, “Would you like to know a secret?” “I’m not going to play these games with you!” I shouted. I was not in the mood for cryptic ancient bullshit tonight. “Fine, fine, boy. I will tell you. This Anders does not need to speak spells to cast them. He is a direct descendant of one of my kind. It’s why he was able to free and bind me. He has gifts like you and your Talon. His specialty is the mind.” I was getting nervous, “A direct descendant. What are you saying?” “He is able to control minds and tap into his influence even over distance. He establishes this connection through physical contact.” “Cool. He never touch-“I froze as my mind shifted back to all those months ago. Eon, Lex, Anders, and I around that war table. He’d reached for my pendant. I had slapped Anders’ hand away. That smile. He had smiled. He’d smiled because he knew he had me. This whole time. They’d been tracking me. It had been me. It had been my fault. I had accused Amaris of betraying us when it had been my own doing. I felt sick “Do you think he did not take similar assurances with a long-lost prince and refugee princess?”
  12. Demiurge

    It's a Girl

    @drpaladin I don’t do happy royal families I guess 😬
  13. Demiurge

    It's a Girl

    The church was much bigger than I originally anticipated. We’d been there for a few days now and the building’s sheer size made it easy to avoid Loren. I didn’t regret bringing Rah along, but gods’ the man was insufferable. If he kept it up, I had no doubt that either Talon or Wren would go after him. The former assassin wouldn’t even show that he was watching, but the minute he even breathed in Eon’s direction, a snowy head popped up between them. Talon was having trouble on two fronts. Loren came onto me, which of course made him crazy, but he also overstepped with Talon himself. I hummed softly, irritated at my thoughts and a shoulder bumped into mine gently. Talon looked down at me curiously and I smiled warmly up at him. No use spending our time with each other thinking about Loren. The library and the small bookshelf in my room were becoming favorites second only to the bath tub. I read a lot. I read for my studies as well as for fun now. I went through nearly a book a day on my own and was beginning to understand Talon and Tyren’s vast collections. We strolled into what looked to be a makeshift sitting room. We hadn’t been to this room yet. Pausing to glance around, I frowned when I spotted Rah. She sat on a formal couch in the center of the room, fingers curled up as she toyed with an object against her neck. I noticed it hung from the silver chain she always wore. Talon followed me into the room with a tray of tea and coffee, and I held up my hand, nodding my head in her direction. His smile faded. “Rah? Why are you sitting here alone? Where’s Loren?” I stepped closer to the couch. She tucked what might be a piece of metal back into the neck of her dress and turned to us. “By the footsteps, it’s you and your…less than pleasant lover, Kalian?” She wet her lower lip and then pressed them together in a thin line. “That’s me. Less than pleasant lover, present. Don’t worry. I will make myself absent just for you cyka.” Talon monotoned and I glared at him as he turned and walked off, taking the tea and coffee with him I noticed. I frowned softly. We’d been able to spend a lot of time together since coming to the church even between my lessons with Tyren and my new improved, additional endurance training with Amaris and Wren, but free time off during the day was rare. This was the first time we’d planned something together when the sun was up in quite a while. I couldn’t even hear Talon’s footsteps anymore. Every time we entered a room with Rah or Loren in it, he tensed right away. With Rah, I noticed, his reactions were even worse than with Loren. Talon practically ran from the girl. I looked in the direction he’d gone and then sighed, stepping farther into the room. I didn’t have a lot to compare to, but Rah dressed so differently than the women I was used to. Her hairstyle was rough. A jagged, almost masculine, style but then she favored dresses. She was more solid than I had thought originally, now that she wasn’t hidden under a long coat. She was still undeniably feminine, but she had wider shoulders and definite muscle tone under the black fabric she wore. As usual, she was in a long dress. Her decolletage, arms, and chest were covered in black satin that seemed to spread down her torso. She wore a black, sculpted, metal breastplate with strips of fabric draped over it as well. Rah had switched out Talon’s tattered temporary blindfold the day we got here to one made of red silk trimmed with black lace. The skirt was of the same material as the top but as she shifted, I realized there was a long slit. This revealed that she was also wearing high-heeled, leather boots underneath that extended all the way to her upper thigh. “He called me a bitch.” She said flatly, but I was surprised to see a small smile on her lips. “Wow, your boots are amazing.” I gasped as I sat next to her, desperately trying to change the subject. She turned in my direction and her lips downturned slightly as if she didn’t know how to answer, “Oh, they’re leather. The heel’s not very practical for the snow but I love them.” I smiled softly at her and shifted a tiny bit closer, “That’s okay. I was just complimenting them. You didn’t have to justify them to me. I want some. I’ll have to make Talon buy me some whenever we go shopping again. He’s better at haggling.” “You want some like them? Complimenting me…Talon would buy you something like that?” She asked, voice thoroughly confused. “Not to sound, uh conceded, but Talon pretty much does what I want. He only acts tough.” I giggled and scooted back on the couch. “What’s…he like? When you get to know him.” She turned to me abruptly, hands gripping her skirt tight as if she feared the answer. “Why?” There was defensiveness in my voice. For once I didn’t feel guilty about it. “I’m curious. As I said the other day. You are a strange pair.” Her hands fluttered in her lap and then settled again. “Not really. I’m sure from the outside it looks that way. Uh, how to describe Talon? He’s caring, sweet, protective, and intelligent. I don’t know what you really want to know.” I laughed nervously. She faced forward, playing with a piece of fabric from her dress as she seemed to consider. “He seems suspicious and violent. Also standoffish with a bad temper.” The blindfold turned in my direction and for once I was thankful for it. I had no doubt that with eyes, Rah would be even more intimidating. “Everyone here is capable of being violent and you yourself have a temper at times. That being said, you aren’t wrong. He’s been through a lot. He’s had a rough life. Talon’s earned the right to be suspicious of other humans. They’ve done enough to him. As for the specific suspicion geared towards you and Loren, neither of you have been volunteering information.” “A rough life.” She frowned and faced forward again, “He has had a rough life…” “I’m not going to go into why. Those are his stories to tell and he’s a private person. I don’t know what else to tell you, really. If he’s loyal to you, he’ll defend you with his life. If he thinks you’re a threat…Talon doesn’t normally hesitate to eliminate those.” I finished with a sigh, knowing exactly where she and her companion currently resided on the scale. “That’s fine. I suppose I’m not sure what kind of information I’m after.” Rah admitted softly. “What made you want to ask?” I tilted my head to the side. My earlier conversations with Talon still in my mind, the thought that she may be after information made me a little nervous. Her hand rose from her lap and then she curled her fingers into a fist and covered it with her other hand, “No reason. I apologize for bringing it up at all.” “What’s Loren like? Is he actually how he’s been acting with us?” I leaned back against the arm of the couch, tucking my leg underneath me as I studied her. She was attractive in a strange way. In a familiar way, my brain interjected. Something crashed nearby and I heard voices. Both our heads snapped in the noise’s direction, conversation forgotten. “What was that?” She gasped and I stood. “Stay here.” There was a door at the back of the room, opposite the one that Talon and I had entered. I curled my fingers around the knob and pressed my ear against the wood to listen. I heard what sounded like voices again, but I couldn’t make out any of the words. The Soul Eater? Here? This seemed strange. Taking a deep breath, I steeled my nerves and turned the knob as quietly as I could. I wrenched the door open and blinked rapidly as my eyes adjusted to dim lighting. My entire face went red, and I froze. Paint cans were spilled all over the ground of a room that was now being used as a utility closet. Brooms, mops, painting supplies, a disheveled Amaris with very wide eyes, and a very smug looking Loren glancing back over a muscled shoulder at me. I could barely see Amaris as she peeked around him at me. She was pinned between him and the wall, half undressed, and legs hooked up and over his hips. Loren’s torso was bare, and I stared at his back. He was leaner than Talon or Eon, smaller in general, but he still had a fair amount of muscle. What caught my eye, though, was the tiger tattoo that took up his entire back. Its roaring jaw sat on the back of his left shoulder and its back feet ended underneath his waistband. The colors vibrant. Bright oranges, deep blacks, it’s eyes a striking blue, and it’s mouth was a blood red. “Kalian?” Talon, and by the sounds of it, at least one other were coming closer. The room seemed frozen in time until Loren sighed dramatically. He lowered Amaris to her feet and picked clothing up off the ground. Waving in her general direction, he made his way out of the room. Loren stroked fingers under my chin as he passed, “You really are pretty.” I jerked away and glanced back to where my friend avoided my eyes as she dressed. I turned slowly and watched for a few seconds as Loren draped his shirt over his shoulders as he walked. He didn’t bother to fix his half-undone pants that sat dangerously low on his hips. “Who do you think you are?” I started after him, glaring. “Kalian, it’s okay!” I frowned at her, clenching my fists as I watched him go. He still hadn’t bothered with his shirt and now stood in front of Rah, holding his hands out. She took them and they left the room as Talon and Eon came into it. Talon watched the other man go, appraising. “Like what you see, my gloomy king? I’ve heard what you can do but it still pains me that I haven’t at least seen it.” Loren inclined his head, eyes dipping to below Talon’s waist as he pressed his tongue against his top teeth. “No. You’ll never be privy to any of it.” Talon dismissed his existence completely and his shoulders lowered a fraction when he saw me. He’d been gearing up for a fight automatically. Why wouldn’t he? It seemed to be our luck. He had developed a new behavior that worried me. Every time Talon was stressed now, he had this terrible habit of tensing his shoulders so hard they almost rose up to his damn ears. Loren’s eyes were wide for a moment as he digested Talon’s quick write off. Then he smirked and led Rah from the room. I glared after him but turned back to Amaris. I shut the door behind me and silently helped her get dressed without a word to the other two men now in the room. I was fixing her braid when she finally spoke, “He’s not that bad when we’re alone.” “He acted like you were nothing when he left. He even made a pass at me and Talon again. You deserve someone who looks at you like…like…” I trailed off, unsure of where my sentence was going. I fished her discarded hair ribbon off the ground. I tied the red ribbon around the end of her braid instead of finishing the thought. “Like the way Tyren and Hanja look at each other? Even though Hanja tries to hide it. Or the way you and Talon do?” She smiled up at me, “Or the way Wren looks at a battlefield of unsuspecting people?” I laughed and hugged her to me, kissing her forehead gently, “Yes. You deserve to be happy.” “I don’t know what that means for me Kal. I don’t want the marriage, kids, tiny little house dream. None of that is for me. I want adventure. I don’t want to be tied down to place for the rest of my life. Sure, having a person would be great, but I don’t know. When I had feelings for Talon, I think that may have been part of why. He wouldn’t have wanted that life with me either. Not the way he wants it with you.” “Amaris, I’m not sure that Talon thinks about things like that. Hanja had to save him from the brink of death for him to admit that he loved me. I don’t want to go through another near-death experience to have the ‘settling down’ talk.” She giggled and I kissed her cheek sloppily. There was a twinge inside as I remembered the ring the Soul Eater had shown me in the illusion. We stood and I opened the door for her. Eon sat on the couch and Talon sat next to him on the arm of it. He looked at Amaris and then the door I was closing behind me. His eyes then trailed the direction Loren had taken. “So, are we officially sleeping with the enemy now?” He asked, inclining his head as she rewarded him with a glare. “It wasn’t a secret that I was interested. Everyone saw me go with him when they joined us. Also, when did they become the enemy Talon? When did it become your business?” I sighed softly at the defensiveness in her tone, knowing this conversation could only end badly. I glanced toward Talon, irritation building. “It is not Talon’s business.” I narrowed my eyes at him and he inclined his head, chewing on his cheek. “Did something fall?” Tyren hurried into the room, a sleepy looking Hanja trudging along behind him. A strange panel in the ceiling shifted open roughly and Wren dropped down, dust and cobwebs coating his white hair. I wondered for a second what it meant that I wasn’t even fazed by his antics anymore. “Well, now that we’re all here, we might as well talk about it.” Talon announced, gesturing around the room, “I don’t trust them. I think they’re up to something and I think it’s their fault we were attacked. I think she wanted us to be. Hence why they attacked us and whoever those people were found us again.” Hanja sunk into an armchair and Tyren in another next to him. Wren hopped over the back of the couch and gave Eon a toothy grin. My brother’s nose scrunched at the filth covering his hair and started picking what he could off. “Talon. You are smarter than this.” Hanja looked disappointed and Talon looked away from him, “You think a girl who was almost sexually assaulted and was visibly emotionally distressed afterward planned for it to happen? I treated her wounds. Her hands were covered in defensive ones. Her fingernails were near broken off. While they are suspicious and have given us very little information about themselves, you are forcing a narrative together to justify how you feel. Which is threatened and jealous.” I blinked, eyes wide as I looked away. Hanja was sometimes so blunt and so brave with his words that I’m not sure where he got the courage. Talon scowled but remained silent and refused to meet anyone’s eyes. Eon was still picking at Wren’s hair and sighed, “I don’t trust them much either. He’s an excellent fighter. Years of elite training. How does he end up with a blind girl in the countryside?” “Rah said that she was imprisoned and then sold to a baron. They met at this baron’s estate where he was a stable boy. He’d already had his training then and broke them out. That’s all she told me though. Uh, also he has a giant tiger tattoo over his whole back and is from Illiath if that means anything to anyone?” I said, sitting next to Wren. Amaris still stood, glowering at nothing in particular since Talon wouldn’t meet her eye. Talon looked up at the ceiling, “Kalian. Phoenix, lion, tiger…” “What? Oh yeah, when we got here Loren said something weird to me about a lion going for a pheonix’s wings and how tigers and panthers have to stick together.” I rushed through the words and Eon and Tyren looked up at me with mixed emotions on their faces. “Kal, our house crest was a phoenix, Lex’s was a lion.” Eon raised an eyebrow and I felt foolish, heat creeping over my cheeks. I had only worn clothes emblazoned with the dumb bird. Only rode in carriages with it stamped on the side. I had known Lex my whole life and seen his crest almost as much as my own. Why were things like this slipping my mind so frequently? “It would appear that perhaps Loren’s may be a tiger, or he at least identifies with them.” Tyren added, smiling encouragingly at me as he saw me struggle. Eon looked to Talon briefly and then very quietly mumbled, “The Dlethian royal family’s symbol is a black panther. I saw it when I was trying to research that angle to get Kal out of the marriage.” “What did he actually say to you? What were his exact words?” Hanja questioned, looking frustrated. Talon was glaring down at Eon from where he was perched above him, nose wrinkled in distaste. Gripping my knees, I took a breath and tried to calm down my thoughts,“ He said, ‘Everyone knows what happened to the lion when he tried to snatch at your wings. Talon will like me. Rah does.’ Then something about tigers and panthers having to stick together ‘cause they’re misunderstood or something.” Then it clicked. I stared at Talon and he raised an eyebrow, taking a break from giving Eon dirty looks. I stalked over to him and slapped my hand over the top of his face. He almost fell off his perch and gripped my wrist, “What the fuc-“ “You’ve known. You’ve been looking at her practically since we met them. If we come into a room with her you run away. You knew.” I looked down at the lower half of his face. Yes, the features were stronger, but they were obviously from the same gene pool. “I haven’t been running away. I don’t run away. I didn’t know for sure. I thought maybe.” “Rah. Lyrah. Talon!” I dropped my hand and stared at him. Again, why was I having so much damn trouble making the simplest connections? For all my thinking and possibly over thinking, I never reached conclusions. What was wrong with me? I had no idea what I was feeling. It was so obvious, and I was so stupid. Then, pain set in. Her face, her eyes, everything that had happened to her. The poor girl had led a life as terrible as her older brother’s. That nudging at the back of my brain that had been telling me I was missing something. It was a huge something. “What’s going on?” Eon asked, eyebrows raised. “Lyrah is Talon’s little sister.” I said. “We don’t have any proof of that!” Talon argued and I saw discomfort and shame start to mix with his anger as he stood. His eyes darted around and his whole body was tensed as if he were bracing himself. Talon looked like he was going to run. I stood up and went to him, my fingers lightly touching his wrist. He calmed the tiniest bit but still looked like he’d rather not be in the room with us anymore. “Her eyes. She was imprisoned…Wouldn’t that mean everyone’s favorite monster would have met her?” I stared at Wren, and he looked back at me, eyes blank. “I was given Talon when they wanted him. I never saw a girl.” Wren shrugged. Talon turned slowly to face Wren, “Nothing in that palace was supposed to happen without you knowing it. That’s what you always told me. You said she never came to the palace or you’d have known.” “Anders has managed to get things past me before. It’s not impossible. Don’t know anything. Sorry.” Wren met Talon’s eyes and I saw a flash of something there. Wren was lying. Or if he wasn’t lying, he was withholding some of the truth. Talon must have seen it too. Wren kept his eyes on Talon’s and very slowly lifted his hands, then his shoulders in a shrug so heavy with indifference that it hurt me. In the next second Talon had lunged from next to me, over Eon, and we watched in horror as he tackled Wren and they rolled across the floor. Black flew up Talon’s arms and Wren snarled as black claws jammed into his shoulder. Wren’s eyes looked crazed and angry, but he was trying hard to stay defensive while Talon appeared to be trying to murder him. Eon and I exchanged a look and I shook my head. There was no way we could separate them. There were too many claws and too much strength. Eon dragged me out of the way as the thrashing bodies slammed into the couch, sliding it across the wood floor. Talon’s hand ripped from Wren’s shoulder and blood splattered over the wood under them. He brought the hand down again and Wren caught his wrist, gripping so tight it looked like it might snap. Tyren, Hanja, and Amaris joined us at the doors to the room. We watched helplessly, Eon’s arm around my shoulders. Wren’s control was slipping. He had claw marks crossing his upper torso and a nasty looking slash across his cheek. He was getting angry as they growled and fought to get the upper hand. “You told me you never knew anything about her!” I pressed my palm to my chest as Talon yelled into Wren’s snarling face. There was so much pain flying over the connection that I had to blink a few times to keep my cheeks dry. “If I told you the kingdom’s secrets, I wouldn’t be a very good spymaster or head assassin, would I? You wouldn’t have been able to save her anyway.” Wren rolled them and slammed Talon down hard, pressing his cheek to the ground, “Stop. Traveling together really has made you stupid. You wouldn’t have dreamed of attacking me before.” Talon struggled and my heart sank even lower as I watched the black creep farther over his skin. It slid up his cheeks and into his hairline. He gripped the wrist holding him down and twisted hard. Everyone, Wren included, was lost in shock as Talon forced Wren off him. He punched him hard in the face, knuckles catching on fangs. I winced as his hand came away with gashes in the skin. Talon uncurled his fingers, flexing long claws that he lifted above Wren’s face. Pink eyes were huge and wide. “Talon, Talon, no. Stop! Right now!” He didn’t look at me. I’m not sure he even heard my voice. Wren’s pink eyes were wide as he tried to loosen the grip Talon had on his wrist before the claws descended. The raised hand stopped in its trek downward and Talon shook his head hard. He let go of Wren and stumbled back until he tripped over his own feet and landed on the ground. His hands came up, claws covering his eyes as his whole body shuddered. Wren held his already bruising wrist, staring at his former ward, speechless. As far as I knew, no one besides the Soul Eater had ever overpowered Wren. He looked from his wrist to Talon again and then stood. Talon was still and his claws were retracting to normal again, covering his face as he gasped behind them. His skin was back to its usual pale color. “Talon.” Wren strode forward, mouth still slightly agape. Talon dropped his hands and looked up at the smaller white-haired male. “You said you didn’t know anything. I tried for years. No one would tell me. I thought maybe they just killed her.” His voice broke and he let his head hang again. Wren looked so uncomfortable that it almost made me laugh. He lowered himself down, stooping besid the long, stretched out legs and resting a hand on top of Talon’s head, “I never saw her. I don’t know where they kept her but she was only in the palace for a month. I hadn’t even heard the king’s plans for you then. She was taken somewhere else after that. Sold to one of the king’s friends.” Grey eyes studied Wren, but Talon didn’t answer. Wren ruffled his hair gently and I watched something pass between the two. They both looked away and Wren’s hand dropped. None of the rest of us had moved yet and I jumped when I heard a softer voice behind us, “I never knew that part. I never knew you tried to find me. Even while you went through your own struggles.” Rah-or maybe Lyrah now-walked slowly into the room. I looked around, confused that she seemed to be alone. She held her skirts in her right hand and as we watched her come closer, I noticed her left hand outstretched. The air in front of it shifted strangely and I noticed when it hit the wall she steered around it. “You’re able to navigate with your power!” Tyren gasped, hands flying over his chest as if looking for his pencil and paper. “Yes, it’s hard in the snow and I like for people to think I’m more helpless than I am. Sorry. I’ve been, sneaky. Having tricks up your sleeve can keep you from getting killed. I wanted to know I could trust you. Kalian confirmed that I could.” Talon and Wren stared at her from the floor as she made her way to the couch that had been roughly shoved across the room. She hovered her hand over it before sitting, crossing one leg over the other. Looking at them now, it was clear. Rah was a smaller, feminine version of Talon. They even carried themselves the same way. Intimidating and a little hostile, but secretly kind. “Have you known this whole time?” Amaris piped up, staring at Rah as if she’d seen a ghost. Her eyes jumped from the girl’s every feature then to Talon’s. Wren was standing, but Talon was still sitting on the ground, eyes wide. “Yes since we found you. We initially sought you out for a different reason however.” The feeling in the room shifted right away. All of us were suddenly on guard, except for Talon who still stared at Rah in shock. “For what purpose?” Hanja deadpanned; eyes narrowed. “There’s a bounty on your heads, we were going to collect. Then, I saw his stupid face.” Rah sighed. “Actually, we heard how strong your group was and watched you slaughter an entire band of Anders’ little army of mercenaries. Then we decided to rethink our strategy. I really didn’t want a knife stuck into my soft palate. Then she saw his stupid face up close.” Loren strolled up behind us, hands in his pockets, “What put you in the sharing mood Rah? I thought we were going to leave and keep our air of mystery.” “Quiet, immature child. Your foolishness if what created problems for us in the first place.” Rah gave another sigh, this one from exasperation. “You are 14 plus years younger than me-“ “And far wiser. Not the point, if you can find the strength to keep it in your pants and keep your waggling tongue in your mouth, I’d like to tell them what’s led us to this point. If that’s alright with you?” The corners of her lips raised in a sneer that had to be hereditary and Loren held up his hands. He backed up to stand in line with the rest of my group in the doorway. “We are technically in the service of Diman’s Crusade army. General Anders private army. Loren was recruited by one of their dashing young captains. Apparently, he made him an offer that Loren’s thighs couldn’t refuse. They’ve been gathering mercenaries and anyone good with a sword for months, building a rag tag army. They promise money, standing, forgiveness for those with less than admirable records. We wanted to leave Dimian. It seemed like our only chance.” Rah explained. ”We love Anders’ captains.” Wren hissed softly. “Let me guess which one it was.” Amaris groaned. Loren tilted his head to the side, “He was this half-crazed blond. Nice to look at but definitely off his rocker. Captain- “ “Mallex Nainde.” Our entire group filled in for him and Loren blinked and then frowned and nodded. “You slept with Lex?” I gasped, feeling my stomach churn. “Oh no. No. Believe me. I tried. The man was like a monk. He didn’t touch anyone. There were rumors he was a eunuch he was so resistant to carnal urges. He sure knew when to smile and when to strategically touch though. That one was all charm, and biceps.” Loren sighed dreamily and I felt my stomach twist. “I am…slightly less attracted to you right now.” Amaris grimaced. Her hand pressed to her mouth as we exchanged a look. Loren pouted and looked around as if he thought he was missing a joke. “Sorry to ruin your day but Talon killed him.” I crossed the room and kneeled by Talon, running fingers through his hair. He turned to look at me and I helped him get to his feet. Loren pouted at us both, still clearly lost. Rah turned to me, “The captain is dead? Hm, good. There was something wrong with him.” “Okay, am I understanding this correctly? You’re supposed to turn us in then? To Anders? You’re being paid to do it?” Tyren asked, Hanja partially standing in front of him. “That was the original plan and then little miss storm cloud figured out that the tall king of brooding was her big brother.” Loren grinned, “Among other things.” His eyes swept over Amaris, and she regarded him coolly. “The only issue now is, Anders seemed to doubt our loyalty from the start. He’s already made threats. Implied he’d turn us in to our respective families which is a death sentence.” Rah continued, smoothing her skirt. “Your families?” Eon asked, raising an eyebrow. “You didn’t notice the air of royalty in the way we carry ourselves? No matter, peasants wouldn’t.” Loren laughed to himself, seemingly unbothered that he laughed alone. Rah sighed and pressed the heel of her hand to her blindfolded eye in irritation, “Loren is 7th in line for the Illiathian throne. His brothers sold him into slavery at a young age because he was their father’s favorite. Hence the complex. Talon and I are the current Dlethian king’s grandchildren. The children of his oldest son who escaped the night before his arranged wedding and was marked for death. He ran off to marry a commoner. It was incredibly romantic apparently. I guess grandpa extended his death decree to us as well. Dad dying in Dimian wasn’t good enough.” Rah said it all without emotion, only cringing a bit at the romantic part. “Things just keep getting better.” Amaris whined. “Talon, congratulations on the sister. That’s an answer to a question I didn’t even have. The soldiers in red, these are Dimian’s Crusade? The unit or army made entirely of mercenaries?” Eon ran his fingers over his beard, and I watched Wren step close enough to press against him. He was stroking his fingers over the bruise marks on his skin. “Correct. A force that answers only to Anders.” Rah answered curtly. Talon leaned against me and I rub my hand over his back, trying to soothe. “Kalian, do you still have all of the maps and papers? It seems we need to get on track and fast.” Eon heaved out a heavy sigh. “Yes, upstairs.” I kneaded my fingers over tense muscle as I looked over at Eon. “Tomorrow. I’ve dealt with you all enough today.” Hanja waved his hand dismissively behind him as he walked from the room. Tyren followed, glancing around with an uneasy look on his face. Wren and Eon were next and then Amaris. She stepped around the hand Loren held out and didn’t acknowledge him. “Rah are y-“ “Go try and fix your mistake cock for brains.” She cut him off and huffed in annoyance. I choked on a laugh and Loren saluted. He jogged out and we were alone with the girl. “I won’t be offended if you aren’t ready to address it tonight.” Rah mumbled when the room fell into awkward silence with only the three of us remaining. “Yeah, thanks.” Talon let out a soft breath of relief. Slowly, she pulled the chain from her neckline. She held it up and Talon peered at it. He gave up when he realized he couldn’t see the two-inch disc from across the room. He approached her, dragging me with. The disc turned on the chain but when it came back around and caught the light, I saw the jagged triangles pointing downward. “It was yours. You picked me up. You were too small to carry me far. Your arms got tired, and I couldn’t run fast enough. When I fell, I ripped it off. Out of our family, for some reason, your face was the only one I remembered clearly.” Her voice broke a little and I could hear Talon’s breathing coming harder. “I-I need to go. I have to go.” He near panted and left the room so fast I was alone with Rah before I knew it. “I didn’t mean to upset him. I thought it might help.” She pushed her blindfold up and wiped at her eyes. Hesitantly, I leaned over to rest a hand on her knee, “That day is one of the worst of his life. I’m sure yours as well. He’s blamed himself ever since.” “For what?” She wiped at her eyes more, eyebrows scrunched in confusion. “He seems to think that prepubescent Talon should’ve fought off armed adult guards to save you.” I squeezed her knee gently and let my fingers slip away. It startled me when she grabbed for them, holding them lightly in hers, “That’s ludicrous. Then my entire family would have died that day.” I looked down at our joined hands, “Talon is hard to sway when he has an idea in his head.” “I’ll let you go. I’m not your partner. It isn’t your job to console me.” She released my hand and stood gracefully, gathering her skirts. “I don’t consider consoling someone a burden.” I bit my lip and paused before forcing the words out, “If you need someone to talk to…I’m a good listener.” “O-oh, thank you.” She whispered. “I’ll walk with you to your room at least.” I offered my arm almost shyly and felt odd excitement when her hands felt along my forearm before wrapping her arm around it. We were in our temporary bedroom. Talon was silent, laying face down on the bed with his arms over his head as if he were protecting it. His body shook and I could hear sniffles which made me ache, but I held back. The position he was in looked horribly uncomfortable, but until he was ready to talk, I wasn’t going to disturb him. I sat at the foot of the bed, flipping through the alchemy book again, chewing my thumbnail. I had dropped Rah off on the way and I had a hard time imagining what the two were feeling. What did you say to your long-lost sibling that you hadn’t seen for over a decade? I set the book in my lap as I thought back to the night Talon had shown me the attack on his family. She could not have been more than four or five. Judging by her speech I’d lean towards four. Talon had been 10 or 11. He was 26 now. So that put Rah around, what, 19, 20? I closed my eyes and let my head fall back against the footboard hard. She was so young, and she’d been through so much. So had Talon. The universe really took their family and tried its best to destroy it. One member at a time. “Are you alive up there?” I called softly. “I feel like my chest might explode and my eyes hurt.” Came the muffled response. I laid the book on the ground and crawled over to his side of the bed. I poked the cage he’d made with his hands and he released his head, stretching his arms above it. He shifted onto his side and looked down at me. His eyes were red, rubbed raw, and he looked miserable. I reached up, combing his hair away from his face with my fingers. “Move over.” I ordered quietly. He scooted over on the bed and I climbed up, offering my arms. He curled into them and I held his much bigger frame to mine. Kissing his forehead, I began rubbing his shoulders. I wanted to ask him questions. I wanted to make him talk about it. That was the worst thing I could do. Forcing Talon to be vulnerable would make him do the opposite of what I wanted. So, I kept my mouth shut and snuggled him. He rested his face in my neck and I felt his warm breath puff against my skin. It was oddly comforting and I found myself getting sleepy. My hands slowed and I squeezed him to me as I settled into him and the bed. “I have been a shit older brother so far.” He mumbled, mouth now having drifted to my shoulder. “Do you know how many times I have called Eon names? Or vice versa? That part’s pretty normal.” I chuckled softly. “Did he also accuse you of plotting something when Lex sexually assaulted you?” More, slightly harder to understand mumbles. “Well, on the bright side, I stopped that from happening to her. Talon, you know that you can apologize for things, right? You don’t wrong a person and then avoid them forever. You can apologize and they can choose to forgive you.” I kissed his temple and he looked up at me, eyes narrowed as if I’d presented a foreign concept. I kissed his nose, “What? I’ve apologized to you plenty of times and you have as well. Why is this any different?” He hid his face again, “I didn’t leave you in an alley because your legs were half a foot long and I was scared.” “Talk to her about it.” “That sounds like the adult thing to do.” He rolled out of my arms and laid on his back, rubbing his poor eyes, “Which explains why I don’t want to do it. Fuck that.” I rolled my eyes and crawled to him, throwing my leg over and pulling myself up to straddle his lap, “You survived everything you’ve been through up to this point. You survived Wren. You go into battle regularly. You fought the Soul Eater hand to hand. You can’t talk to your little sister?” He looked up at me, resting his hands on my hips, “Have you seen her? She’s fucking scary.” “She’s actually very nice and also…you two are somewhat similar.” I shook my head and dried his wet cheeks. “Are you saying I’m scary? Of course she’s nice to you. You make friends with everyone. It surprises me that you haven’t invited the Soul Eater to join us at this point.” I ran my fingers gently over his cheekbones and removed a stray piece of hair that had fallen over his eyes. He looked up at me and I rubbed the center of his chest. Mine ached for him. The endless torrent of emotion that streamed out of his cracked walls was overwhelming. The worst part is that he was trying to keep most of it in. His mind must be a real maelstrom. I leaned down, pressing my lips softly to his. “No, I don’t find you scary. Either of you. You have to try. You owe it to yourself and her.” He closed his eyes and leaned into my touch as I massaged my fingertips over his scalp. I’d push him later on. The man deserved a break for now. We were accustomed to hard days, but this one had been a different kind of difficult. I wasn’t sure what kind of relationship they could have now. They were strangers with similar faces. They’d lived most of their equally horrible lives apart and it’d shaped them both into stubborn, unyielding people. I wasn't sure if they'd be able to fit their sharp edges together after being absent from the same puzzle for so long. We'd find out fast.
  14. Demiurge

    Teach

    @headtransplant uh yeah unfortunately the people who know their parents in this either had terrible childhoods or terrible parents 😬 Not sure what I have against parents 😅
  15. Demiurge

    Bath

    Things were…tense and strange. Loren and Rah remained separate from the group, walking a fair distance behind us. They were talking and I was curious about what. Amaris walked next to me. Talon and Eon were far in the front, Talon laughing at whatever my brother said. I smiled and then let it drop as I got lost in my head again. That seemed to be happening pretty frequently. Like yesterday, there was a creeping sense that I was missing something. Something important. I tried to shake it off. Worrying about it would do me no good. I didn’t know what it was for gods’ sake. I hadn’t known I’d let out a heavy sigh until I felt fingers link with mine. “I’m sorry for shoving you after the fight. I’m not sure what came over me.” Amaris said, sounding down. Oh no, I’m sure she was trying to come up with a reason for my silence. She’d defaulted to blaming herself and this was the only thing the poor girl could think of. “It’s fine. You’ve been meaner to me before.” I tried to play it off with a laugh, but failed miserably. I was too wrapped up in my head. Amaris raised an eyebrow. I watched her physically shift approaches. “Oh good. Now I can talk about what I want to! Can we talk about Loren and Talon’s little exchange?” I blinked and rubbed a hand down my face as I groaned. I had no idea where she was going to go with this, but knowing Amaris, it wasn’t somewhere I wanted to delve. “Really Ris?” She rolled her eyes at me and tried to explain to me why it had been attractive. In her defense, she tried very hard to skirt around outright mentioning that she still found Talon appealing. I didn’t get it. The men both had dominant personalities. I shook my head. That sounded like a giant nightmare if it were even possible. Which it wasn’t. Talon didn’t trust Loren. He’d had a knife to his throat today for goddess’ sake? How would that translate to something like what Amaris’ was hinting at? My best friend was a foolish sex-starved woman. It made sense that she’d brought it up now. She wanted to fuel her own mental fantasies. I suppose it was only fair. The girl had been alone for a while and she was surrounded by people who weren’t. I shook my head again and her words slowly started failing to land. The world around me shifted. Dark crept over the outer edges of my vision. It spread across the world in front of me. My friends were swallowed up in the dark and I lifted my fingers as fear set in. Fantastic. I was hallucinating. I kept walking. I was waiting for whatever nightmare surrounded me to make itself known. I heard noises. Possibly voices, but I wasn’t positive. So, the Soul Eater then. That would make sense. I kept walking, remaining calm for once. I took deep breaths and reminded myself that whether dream or Soul Eater, it couldn’t hurt me. It wasn’t real. The Soul Eater had slammed Talon around and he’d woken up fine. Child. “Finally, took you long enough. What do you want?” I answered. I have a proposition for you child. “You don’t make deals with humans.” I flicked my wrist, my light spreading around me. I saw a cloak of shadow dart by and shoved down the fear bubbling inside. I was okay. I could do this. I would make one with you, light wielder. We have a bond. Your power is my kin’s. “Yeah, you mentioned that right around when you screeched at Talon for stealing from you.” Talon. Poor, wretched, ruined little thing. Has he led a hard life? Surely, he’s suffered or he never would have had the chance to sneak in and steal from me. How far has his corruption spread, little one? Has he hurt you yet? I stopped and laughter floated around me. Talon had awoken late for his family. At five. After he’d escaped to Dimian. Had his suffering already started then? Is that what this thing was saying? That Talon having his power was directly connected to how many awful things he’d been through? Do I have your attention now? Do you want to know how to save your doomed love? I had a theory. If I could use my power here the way it could, then why couldn’t I torment it the way it did to me? I let the light bloom around me and heard hisses, and cries as a shape scrambled away from my power, “Talk.” No, no. Nothing is free small one. You must give to get. “What does an all powerful creature that’s lived a millennia want from a 21-year-old Magik amateur?” I rolled my eyes, resuming my aimless walking. Amateur. You believe yourself to be weak? No matter…The man who freed me. He has tied me to him, put a strangle hold on my true power. I wish to be free. Boundless. “Not weak. Inexperienced. So murder. You want me to kill someone to get this information you claim to have. You want me to set you free. How do I know you’re not lying?” I caught the cloak sweeping past again and threw a curved wall out, grinning when the shadow hit it and pounded its fists against the surface. “It’s rude to not look someone in the eyes when you speak to them.” I have nothing to prove! I owe you nothing! You will do this for me or I will watch and savor your Talon’s soul being ripped apart! “We talked about this last time.” My Magik wall extended, curling around and behind the Soul Eater. It tried to get ahead of it and get away, but I slammed its only exit closed. Once I was sure I had it, I reduced the space’s size. I shrunk it down so the Soul Eater was squeezed in a much too small area. Release me human! Release me right now! RELEASE ME! I was still working rapidly to bury my fear, but it became easier when anger flared, “You will not threaten him if you expect me to hear you out. In fact, you will not threaten him at all. Do you understand?” I shrunk the box again and it’s screams and shouts echoed around me. There were hisses and cries of outrage. It was hunched over in the box I’d made of my power, carefully holding itself away from the walls. I will offer a sample piece of information. As an offering of peace. You are aware that he tampered with his Magik. There are different severities. A scale if you will. Your white-haired friend is one of the worst victims of the dark forces. Let us say he is on the irreversible end of the scale. Your Talon is balanced precariously on a very unpleasant edge, about to tip into the ruined boy’s category. The corruption can easily be made worse, but fighting it back is much harder. Getting rid of it completely is nearly impossible. “How do we fight it?” I was breathing hard now, shaken. The black began to fade and the Soul Eater blinked out of existence. I growled and found myself back on the road. I was still walking next to Amaris and she was babbling non-stop. At least I hadn’t alerted anyone to what had been happening. I heard steps approaching and looked up. Talon looked upset and the others had stopped. “It came back to you.” Talon stated, voice tight. “Yes, it tried to make a deal.” Wren’s head snapped in my direction and I met his eyes, “The Soul Eater can visit me when it wants, I guess.” “What did it want?” Talon asked, brow furrowed. I didn’t answer right away. I let myself look at him for the first time in a while. His hood was down. The long, dark hair on the top of his head still curled slightly from his sweat. It was messy, covering the tops of his ears and he’d clearly combed it away from his face with his fingers more than once. His eyes were steely grey- for once no black-and were filled with concern and love as he looked down at me. I tilted my head and took in the high cheekbones, the strong jawline, his perfect mouth. He could be taken from me. Whatever he’d done to supplement his power. Whatever he’d done to himself could take him from me. He had created this obstacle for us before we’d ever met. I was irrationally angry. I knew he hadn’t meant for it to happen. He was young and stupid. He didn’t completely understand the consequences his actions would bring about. I took in a breath that rattled through my chest. The Soul Eater kept implying that Talon was inching closer to some kind of tipping point. Once he got there, the monster thought that this “corruption” would do something horrible to Talon’s soul. “Kalian.” He stepped forward, hands tipping my head back gently, “You’re freaking me out. What did it want from you?” Talon’s soul being ripped apart, unfortunately, did not fit into my plans. Whatever this was, we’d have to address. Like every other problem. “S-sorry, I was lost in thought.” I smiled up at him and patted his hand, ducking under his arms and walking around our stunned friends. For once, Talon didn’t push. I’m not sure why this time he chose to drop it, to let me walk off and act like I wasn’t acting strange. We resumed the last leg of our trip. The others gave me a wide berth. It took me a while to notice it. When I did, it didn’t bother me. I wanted to be left alone. I had things to think about. There were always things to think about. My mind was currently spinning around what the Soul Eater had said. Was it something that we may be able to find a solution to with the dead languages? I chewed my lower lip and mumbled softly to myself, biting down when my brain got off on a tangent. Talon had used Parler Noir to add to his Magik. The “how” wasn’t something that had been explained to me and I’m sure that was on purpose. He, Wren, and Phelti were all Lost Ones. Wren wasn’t one by choice, was Phelti? No, that didn’t matter. Phelti wasn’t relevant. The Lost Ones weren’t related. I bit my lip again, there was pain but it helped me focus again. If we could find a spell book, specifically a Parler Noir one, perhaps we could reverse or at least slow the spread of this corruption? Yes, a spell book. In the country that most heavily persecuted Magik users. We’d have to leave Dleth. To gather that information, the information we’d need to save Talon, we’d have to cross another border. Or perhaps the same one, I suppose. “Kalian?” I turned, widening my eyes before blinking. Tyren walked next to me, an uneasy smile on his face. “Yes, teacher?” I smiled, but then tasted something sharp and metallic in my mouth. I’d bitten through enough skin that my lip was bleeding. I didn’t think Tyren saw, but I sucked the lip into my mouth as his eyes scanned my face. “Kalian you’ve been very quiet since your…vision I suppose would be the word. Are you alright? We’re almost to the safehouse. Over the next hill, Wren says.” Vision was a much better word than hallucination. I liked that. It made me feel less crazy. Tyren’s smile was calmer now and I returned it. I was a little excited. Talon had promised me a tub and they’d have to drag me away if someone else expected to use it first. “I was lost in thought. I’m trying to think of a way to deal with what the Lost Ones did to their Magik. Do you know of any teacher?” Tyren looked thoughtful as we walked. He tapped his chin and ran through the extensive library that was his mind. “There were a few studies a while ago. Unfortunately, not much interest was given to finding a cure for those deemed ‘undesirable’. Hard to conduct research and do work when you’re underfunded and have no resources. I should know. The school never helped my students with anything.” Tyren laughed softly to himself. “What do you mean?” I frowned and Tyren smiled as he hooked his arm through mine. “I was allowed to be a teacher, but I was a former slave turned student. I was only given a chance in life because of my gift. They never expected me to do anything with my life or to influence the lives of others. Our building didn’t even exist. I taught wherever I was able to find room. My students and I built that building and as the years passed, new students made improvements and added to previous work. The king wished for me to take on ‘lost causes’ but didn’t actually want them to succeed.” He laughed bitterly “Then, when we were successful, he wanted and took all the credit. Suddenly, we had all the funding we could ever want available to us.” “That’s horrible Tyren.” I watched my feet as we tromped through the snow, beginning to have second thoughts. Was saving this king, this awful man, really the best choice? “Hanja had to pick up all my pieces almost every night at the beginning. I didn’t want to go on. I was so proud to make something of myself in the country that stole me. Only to be told I still wasn’t fit to teach in it. Or if I was, I wasn’t fit to teach the ‘promising’ students. Joke’s on them. The promising students are normally the most boring ones. Except for you of course.” Tyren smiled brightly at me and squeezed my arm looped through his. “Yes, of all the words I would use to describe Sunshine, boring isn’t my first choice.” Came a voice from our left. Talon walked around on my side, Wren on the other. It was Talon who’d spoken and he smiled softly down at me. “We’re here.” Wren pointed as we made it to the top of a hill. This house was about twice the size of the cottage. It wasn’t on the level of the manors we’d stayed in while we’d been in Syrin, but I felt a little rush of excitement slide through me. It was two stories and had two large sections on either side and one in the middle connecting them. The whole building was done in blacks and greys. Talon should be happy. The main sections of the house had tall pointed, sloped roofs and huge colorful stained-glass windows that looked to be at least two stories high. A door sat on the ground floor in the middle section. I stared. This seemed far more ostentatious than the cottage. It was a safehouse. Wasn’t it supposed to be on the covert side of things? Talon passed me, leaning down as he did so, “It used to be a church. It’s supposed to be haunted or cursed or something. I don’t remember what rumor the Verseckt spread to keep the people away, but it worked.” Tyren and Wren were making their way down the hill with Talon, but I turned to look around at the view. I wasn’t very high up, but I could see more than I had for days. It was very grey. Was the whole country this way? How did people live here? To not have any sun or real light? Sure it was winter, but this was extreme. I turned in a slow circle, stopping when I saw the outline of buildings to the west. “I believe, that is where you told us we were going originally.” A voice said, breath tickling against my ear. I jumped away, scowling at Loren. “I wasn’t about to give everything away to a stranger.” I snapped with perhaps more venom than was really needed. I was a little shaken that he’d gotten so close without me even noticing. A quick look around confirmed that I was alone with him and Rah. She stood at the base of the hill, hands folded in front of her. Her head was tilted in our direction. “Will you give it away now Kalian?” His fingers curled the ends of my hair around his fingers. I jerked away, smacking his hand, “Talon doesn’t make idle threats. If you’re fond of your…” I coughed and glanced down. He pouted and took a step back, “Now, now relax. I mean no harm.” He held his hands up and smiled, “Calm down little phoenix. Everyone knows what happened to the lion when he tried to snatch at your wings. Talon will grow to like me. Rah did. She learned that us tigers and panthers have to stick together. We’re both misunderstood.” I turned and Rah was there. Her fingers reached for my face for a moment before she let them fall to her side. Loren guided her down the hill and I stared after them. “What did any of that mean?” I whispered softly to myself. I hurried after them, but by the time I burst through the front door they were gone. Rushing down a snow covered hill in water logged boots after you’ve walked for days and fought is not the best plan. My feet ached and I’d definitely twisted my ankle at least once in my pursuit of our weird guests. Talon was sitting at the base of a black staircase, leaning his upper body back against the stairs. It looked like everyone had the same idea about their boots and nine pairs littered the floor in front of me. He was down to his tunic and the strip of his chest that I could see was a gift. I could barely hear the others, and none of them were in what I guessed was the foyer? There was nothing in this room except for the front door, the stairs, and some very dead plants. “What took you so long?” Talon tilted his head to the side and watched me take off my coat. “I twisted my ankle.” I said as I conveniently left out three fourths of what had happened. I threw my coat on a nearby rack that was already struggling under the weight of the others. I lifted it in his direction as if he’d never seen an ankle. “I-just-what-I left you alone for like five minutes? Everyone else made it down the hill without any problems? How? How did you do that?” Talon stared at me, incredulous, eyes wide. “I don’t know.” I pouted and braced myself on the wall, holding my leg out to him. He rolled his eyes and stood. I most definitely did not notice how his muscles flexed and bunched. I did not miss the thick winter coat. My eyes did not pay any extra attention to the strip of skin that was exposed when his shirt rode up on his abs as he pushed hair out of his face. He eased the boot off my foot after kneeling and then glared when I switched feet, batting my eyelashes sweetly. “Brat.” He took that one off as well and threw it behind him. His eyebrow rose and he crossed his arms as he looked down at me, “Now what princess?” “That is prince to you peasant boy,” I poked his chest hard, “and I would like to take a bath. You should too. You stink.” “Peasant boy. Oh yeah? Thanks. You know, not like I single-handedly took out half an army. No big deal.” I giggled softly at the thoroughly unimpressed look on Talon’s face. I slid my hands up his chest and hopped. In hindsight, I was very lucky he had excellent reflexes. He barely caught under my knees, scowling down at me as I laughed. He readjusted the awkward position, sliding me up, and his large hands down until he was gripping my thighs and lifting. “One of these times when you do that, I’m going to act like I didn’t notice. Watch you wreck your ass on the ground.” He carried me up the stairs, voice rough even as he kissed my neck gently. “Is that really what you want to watch me wreck my ass on Talon?” His eyebrows shot up, trying their best to reach his hairline and he smirked at me. “You’ve got a filthy fucking mouth.” His smirk got dirtier and he hiked me up a little more as we made our way down a sparsely decorated hallway. I couldn’t see much traveling backwards. Not that I cared much at the moment. His tunic was rolled up, leaving his forearms bare and I sucked on my lower lip as I watched them as he carried me. “Oh yes, I’m the one with the bad mouth.” He nipped my neck and I squeaked, squirming away in his arms. “Door.” I looked up at him confused. He looked behind me and down and I frowned for a second and then caught on. I reached awkwardly behind me. My hand scrambled around on the wood panel behind me and my tongue pressed to my upper lip as I searched. My knuckle smacked a sharp ridge and I winced, wrapping my fingers around a mock crystal doorknob. I twisted it, which was an even more awkward action, and the door opened a crack. Talon nudged it open with his foot and walked us in, kicking it closed with his heel. “Alright, little princess. You can walk around in a small space or hop if necessary. I’m not carrying you anymore.” I was sitting on a wicker chair. The bathroom was simple. A black marble sink and counter sat on a black stand with neatly folded white towels. A black claw foot tub sat at the end of the room and I nearly groaned with relief. I felt disgusting. I made a mental note to avoid the ornate gold trimmed mirror above the sink. I’m sure I looked disgusting too. My eyes demanded my brain’s attention as Talon stripped his tunic over his head. His muscled torso was covered in smears of dirt and blood. There were little beads of sweat that’d run through the other mess and down into the ridges between his abs and I wanted to lick them up even though I knew that was more than disgusting. Revolting really. Who would do that? Gods. He had no reason to look like that. “What’d you hit your head too?” He poked my forehead and smirked. “Do have to be so gorgeous? It’s not fair for the rest of us.” I whined as he pulled my shirt over my head. “Says you. Literally the most beautiful human to walk the earth.” Talon scoffed. He left me to finish undressing and crossed the room to start the water. I blushed all the way down to my toes. I watched his back as he leaned over, shifting as he tested the water and plugged the drain. I was a lost cause. I had thought this would get better with time. I thought I wouldn’t be forever hopelessly enamored with the god of a man standing across this strange bathroom from me. “You got it? Does it hurt that bad?” He frowned, kneeling in front of me, hand resting on my knee. I hadn’t even noticed him move across the room. Had I been zoning out? My ankle did hurt. I lifted it and frowned when I noticed that it was red and swollen now. Talon followed my eyes and cursed softly. He helped me the rest of the way. We shifted around. There was hopping involved, dragging, Talon swore a few times, but finally I was naked and sitting in the bath. The heat helped my little injury right away and I sighed at the relief. “Talon?” I was sitting between his legs, my back against his chest. “Hm?” His fingers rubbed my shoulders gently, a woodsy citrus scented soap sinking into my skin as the grime was purged from it. I made a face. I was never having sex again unless I was positive we were both clean. The days since the safehouse were too many. “Why don’t you like Loren and Rah?” His fingers dug gently into the side of my neck before working down my shoulders, kneading. I let out a soft groan as he worked out all the tension. “It’s not that I don’t like them. I don’t trust them as far as I can throw them is all.” He shook his hands around in the water and I heard glass clinking, “Close your eyes.” I did as told and tilted my head back a touch. His fingers scrunched the length of my hair and then worked up, massaging my scalp. I let out a pleased sigh as his fingers rubbed tiny circles over my scalp, ending at the nape of my neck, “Water.” I made sure my mouth and eyes were closed and felt water pour gently over my head. Talon repeated the action until the soap was washed out, “There. All clean.” I turned and faced him and we switched roles. He pointed out which was which and I grabbed a soft blue bottle that I had to squeeze. It deposited an amber colored gel into my hand that turned into suds when I rubbed it over Talon’s chest and shoulders. There was far more ground to cover for me and we were mostly quiet. Talon’s fingers rubbed my hip gently and I kissed him softly every so often. “Why don’t you trust them?” The woodsy citrus smell filled my nose and I inhaled deep. It smelled nice and I washed a hand off as I reached for a green glass bottle. “Two random people on the road traveling alone. Dleth is not a safe country. You don’t just up and decide to take a Sunday stroll, especially not as a Magik user. Then they attack us and walk up like they didn’t just send out a huge beacon to everyone in the area? Also, who attacks and then waltzes up and introduces themselves? Like, ‘Hey! I’m Talon. You like head trauma?’ Baby, why do you think we were attacked by whoever the fucks in red were?” I almost dropped the bottle and winced as it clanged loudly against the side of the tub, “You think they found us because of Rah’s attack?” “I think Rah attacked us so that they could find us.” Talon met my eyes and I pulled his head forward so I wouldn’t have to meet them. As I worked my fingers through his dark hair, my teeth ripped apart my lower lip. “B-but Rah didn’t want to come with us, remember? She argued with you. You and Loren were at each other’s throats, literally!” I poured water over Talon’s head and winced when he sputtered. He’d done a far gentler job of this than I had. He sat up, rubbing soap and water from his eyes, “True, but it’s easy to play a part. Did she really fight it that hard Kal? Love, you’re too trusting sometimes.” I frowned, playing with the bubbles. He tilted my chin up gently, “It’s…It’s not bad to be trusting. Listen, I have no proof. I’d rather err on the side of caution is all. I’m paranoid like that.” “Uh, also, I should probably tell you. Since we’re being better about being honest. Loren said something weird to me. That’s what took me so long earlier. I fell behind and I was alone with him. Well with them. I mean, I did hurt my ankle. This was before that. The ankle I mean.” The soft look in Talon’s eyes went out like a light. Anger flared up and he bit down on his top lip before letting it drag from his mouth. He took a deep breath, clamping down on what I knew was an impressive temper, “What.” How that anger managed to force a question into a statement I would never know. How that managed to turn me on? I didn’t have an explanation for that either. I kneeled between his legs instead of hooking mine over his and took a breath, “Nothing bad happened. Well, he came onto me like he always does, but it was fine. I handled it. Then he said a weird thing about a phoenix and lion, maybe a dragon…I think there was a bunny in there? I don’t remember to be honest.” He pressed the heel of his hand against his eye as he closed them both, taking another deep breath, “What the fuck are you talking about?” “I have no idea. Go ask Loren! Also don’t fucking swear at me Talon.” I snapped. His eyes snapped open, and he held his hand out gesturing to me, “It’s different when I do it. I did it to make a point. You swore to be mean.” “I swore because regular words didn’t have enough impact to clearly communicate my disbelief at how ridiculous the sentences you just strung together were.” He rubbed his cheek, and I sharpened the razor I found on a nearby shelf, “Oh fuck no. You are not doing that when we’re arguing!” “Then stop arguing Mr. Verloren and swearing.” I pointed the razor at him and earned the tiniest satisfaction from the nervous bob of his Adam’s apple. I sighed softly, “I don’t want to fight with you. We were relaxing. We don’t get to do that much.” I held the razor out of the way and pressed my lips gently to his, letting my eyes slip closed. He cupped my cheek gently and his tongue nudged gently against the seam of my lips. I held the side of the tub as our tongues slid together. His hand found my hip, a thumb rubbing gently against the bone. I wasn’t sure when or how that had become the go to touch for us but it was soothing and it was my favorite. When we finally came up for air, I rested my forehead against his, rubbing our noses together in a way I knew he hated. He scrunched his nose and licked my cheek in the way he knew I hated. I giggled softly and ran my fingers through his wet hair, using the water to slick it back as my cheek pressed to his. The hand with the razor hung over the side of the tub as he held me to him. His hands rubbed up and down my back. He let both of them rest gently on my backside as we lay there. I closed my eyes and let myself commit every detail of the moment to memory. We, truthfully, hadn’t had many like this. A few when we’d been in Syrin. A handful at the manor in the Humiad forest. I could probably count them on one hand, maybe two. Was that normal for a couple? I didn’t know. We got time alone of course. The cottage had separate bedrooms. The only problem was the walls were paper thin and it had felt like we were all in the same room. This felt different. I couldn’t hear any of the others. In the last safehouse, at any given point in time, I would have been able to tell you exactly where the others were. Never mind the traveling in the shelters. There was zero privacy there unless you wanted to go off into the trees and fuck against one. No thanks. Bark doesn’t agree with my delicate skin. Talon’s fingers moved under my chin and he guided my lips back to his, kissing me slowly and thoroughly. I let out a soft moan and I felt him smile against my lips. He licked his lips, and mine inadvertently, then leaned back. His eyes scanned over my face, fingers still holding my chin. He let me go and sighed, “The water’s getting cold Kal. Here. I’ll get us towels.” I pouted from the tub as he pulled the plug and climbed out. It was a nice view, but I wasn’t ready for this tiny personal paradise to be over. He helped me out and set me on the sink. He stepped into the light and I was reunited with the straight razor I’d returned to the shelf. I carefully shaved down the sides and back of Talon’s head so it was short again. Doing this dry wasn’t ideal but I sucked on my lip and tucked my knees under me as I started on the slight stubble he’d accumulated. He did a much better job keeping up with that. I put the blade aside and ran my fingers over the short, slightly scratchy sides of his head and tangled my fingers in the longer part on top. He held my waist and I let my arms drape over his shoulders, leaning down to kiss him again. I’m not sure how long we were in that bathroom. It felt like years. Perfect, wonderful, trauma free years. When we left, Talon carried me the same way and we explored the hallway we’d come down. He had remembered where the bathroom was, but not the actual rooms. We opened the first door we came to that had an ornate mockingbird depicted in its center. Talon opened the door easily, earning a sharp look from me, and turned so I could see. A library. Outfitted with a huge mahogany desk, floor to ceiling bookshelves, and uncomfortable looking olive couches. Talon shifted us around and we continued. A room full of boxes. There was a final room at the end of the hall. This door had a giant rose in the middle of the door and Talon opened it to reveal a bedroom. The bed had dark colors. Deep purples, burgundies, and black. Talon laid me down and my hands flew to my towel as it threatened to slip from my waist. His eyes drifted slowly down and then back up, his tongue flicking against a sharp canine. “I’m going to go get our bags. I think there may be some clothes in here but I wouldn’t hold my breath.” He said and I sat up as he left the room. I sat up and stood, holding my towel as I explored the room. There was a small built in bookcase and I ran my finger over the spines. Most were boring books on wildlife and nature. There was an oddly fancy book about being a good housewife. I giggled softly to myself at that one. I let my finger slide up as I worked up the shelves. These ones got older and more obscure. Magik related, a Symbols of the World book, and even a book on alchemy. I couldn’t reach the higher shelves but I could tell I wouldn’t be able to read them. Even from here I could tell they were in languages I’d never seen. “Find anything good?” Talon dropped the bags on the floor and turned away to close the door. He had at some point pulled on a long sleeved tunic and pants and I pouted softly at the bookshelf. Surely, it would commiserate with me over his new lack of nudity. “There’s a book on alchemy.” He crossed the room and I stepped closer as he reached up to grab it. It was thin and he held it out so I could look too. We flipped through the pages and he explained the simplest things he could. He flipped the book closed and tapped it against the side of my head, “Tyren wants to go over your maps and whatever else you managed to pilfer.” “That makes it sound like I’m a thief.” I frowned, pulling a tunic that wasn’t mine from a bag that didn’t belong to me over my head. “What’s wrong with that? You stole information we need. That’s a good thing.” He sat on the edge of the bed as he watched me get dressed, looking pointedly at my bags, “You know, we bought you clothing.” “Being a thief is not a good thing Talon. Stealing is not a good thing.” I realized my mistake as soon as the words left my mouth, but it was too late. Talon’s eyebrows rose, “Oh, I’m sorry, stealing is what now? A bad thing?” Grey eyes flashed down to the black garment that hung off my torso, “So darling, if stealing is a bad thing, a wrong thing then…” “Oh fuck off. Don’t you have somewhere else you can be?” I pushed him away from me when he gripped my sides, smirk now full blown as I tried not to laugh. I ripped open the bedroom door and dashed out, him right on my heels. “I’m just trying to make sure I understand you! I need to know the difference between right and wrong since you’ve laid it out in such black and white terms. My whole life is grey Kalian! Grey! Wait no come back!” Having someone chase you can be exhilarating. Having someone chase you through a house you’ve never been in can be a little nerve wrecking. Having your 6’5, ex-assassin, partner chase you through a dark, repurposed, church safehouse is terrifying.
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