Spirit of Fire - 8. Weakness And Strength
"So, what did he say after that?" Lucy's questions were something I was prepared for, and I had plenty of my own too. We were walking to school the morning following Celeste's lesson in mythical history, and had just reached the subject of Araziah as we were arriving. "Apart from introducing himself."
"Not much. Just that he wanted to rest, then he laid back down and closed his eyes." I shrugged. The whole situation was a bit freaky, but at least now I know his name. "Not really a conversationalist, I guess, or maybe he just didn't want to chat."
"Mmmm." She hummed, pensive, as we walked up the C Block steps and into the lobby. "I snuck a peek when you were outside talking with Celeste and that guy who was dressed like a gumshoe from Carmen Sandiego. I gotta tell you, dragon-boy has hair like something out of a fuckin' anime. It's soooo pretty. Do they deliberately choose how they appear or are they all just automatically manufactured to some supernaturally perfect level? Prime example number two being Theo."
Oh. She knows too?
"You figured him out as well? I mean, not like it's hard to see it now."
"Yep." She nodded. "Was obvious given the timing and the way he's been acting, and the thing with Brittany a couple weeks back? I mean, hello, he basically whispered marching orders in her ear and she ... marched. Didn't question him or say anything smartass. Just sashayed her fake ass out of our lives."
"Yeah, I know."
"Torsten." Her tone changed to serious, and she grabbed my arm, both of us stopping, so we could talk a bit more face to face. "He owes us both an explanation. You a lot more than me, but you know what Celeste said. They're dangerous. What if he tries something on you? Something to mess with your mind?"
"I- ... I don't think he's going to do that." I had been thinking a lot about Theo's treatment of me and the things he said. He had plenty of chances to manipulate me, and he didn't take them. Maybe it was only a couple of times, when he was teasing my emotions, at the start.
Then, it began to dawn on me.
He was holding back, because ... he really does like me.
"Are you sure? Don't do anything risky. When are you going to talk?"
"Right now." I glanced past her shoulder, already having seen Theo leaning against the row of lockers a dozen paces away, waiting for me. She immediately did a 180 to follow my gaze. There's just enough time before class to settle the important things. "I can't let this hang."
"Okay." Lucy turned back, then abruptly leaned up and hugged me close, whispering in my ear. "Be careful. You know I love you. Talk to me after second bell, okay?"
Then she was gone.
Need to get this over with.
"Come on. Let's go somewhere quieter." He didn't reply, but he did follow me to the end of the block and down the corridor to the school library. It was all but deserted at this time of the morning, and I navigated to a secluded study desk and we sat. He was clearly nervous, and I knew by now that this sort of behaviour wasn't comfortable for him. He was used to being someone in control of the situation; knowing how to react, prepared for what could happen.
How strange it must feel for a ... 'being' like him.
"So, um, you s-" He began.
"I already know." I interrupted immediately, my impatience stopping him before he could get started.
"Know?" He blinked, confused and uncertain.
"What you are." It was blunt and direct and his eyes first went wider in surprise, with a hint of faked incredulity like he wanted to deny whatever I was thinking, then real fear at my following words when he realised he couldn't. "You aren't really a person anymore than I can fly and breathe fire. I know what you are, I know what the Conclave is and I know what you're trying to do."
"You ... know." He took a deep breath. "How? I could tell you've met a, uh ... hatchling. The bites on your arm were obvious, but ... this is more than that."
"It doesn't matter how. Why are you trying to get close to me?" Pointed and accusing, I glared at him, frowning. "Is it because of my grandfather? What do you want, Theo?"
"It's not-" He started and stopped abruptly, and then his upper lip twitched and he let go a growl of frustration, the first time I had seen anything resembling anger. "Yes, it is because of your grandfather, but it's NOT what I want. None of this is about what I want."
"Then what is it about? What do you want?"
"It's the Conclave." He sighed, his shoulders slumping, head dropping, not meeting my eyes. "Everything they want is driven by him." Theo's voice lowered, and it sounded so deep, so serious. Almost inhuman. "You have no idea what it's like to have that pressure in your mind. It never leaves, it never falls silent, and all it offers are dreams. Dreams of power, dreams of destruction, dreams of a world burning from his triumph. There is something so undeniable about it, so right, and it draws us on. It raises us up, makes us angry, gives us purpose. We desire it and we crave it, to serve and to do as he wills. All that matters for us is to be the perfect instruments of his revenge. For the longest time, this is all I've known, and I never thought I could care about anything less than that, just as all my kind cannot."
"Theo ..." I murmured, brow crinkling.
He looked up.
"Then I met you."
"You were meant to be no different from the others. Just another face in a crowd that we could use and cast aside when we had what we wanted, but ... I couldn't do it. The more I knew you, the closer I got ... you were no longer anonymous. You weren't some worthless nobody. You mattered, and made me feel in a way I was told I never could. I started to want something different from the temptation of wrath that we chase, day by day. Something that was selfish, and nothing to do with the world the Conclave wants to create. I wanted to pursue you for myself."
"You don't have to do what th-"
"Torsten. What I want is for you to live, and this is what makes me weak. If they were to know, if they were to find out how far that goes?" He shuddered, and put his hands over his face. "Anyone who turns on the Conclave is a danger, no matter if they are a good friend or family. I will be marked as a traitor, and they will hunt and kill me."
"It doesn't have to be like that." I leaned over the desk, and took his wrists, pulling his hands away, so he had to look at me.
"Yes, it does." His eyes were so sad, and his look was one of despair. "It's never been anything else."
I don't know why I did it, but on impulse, I leaned forward ...
... and kissed him.
His lips were soft, and it only lasted a couple of seconds. He didn't move a muscle, and I sat back, flushing as I realised exactly what I'd just done. I kissed him. In the open. Anyone could have seen us. I glanced over both shoulders, embarrassed and looking for a chance to avoid making eye contact with Theo again.
"Torsten?" Amazed and confused. Hopeful? Relieved, maybe? "Is this- ... are you sure? You said it yourself, I'm not even really a ... person."
"I, um ... anything is possible." I managed an awkward grin that was uncool; dorky and stupid. Then a following sneaky glimpse of his surprised expression. "There are people I want you to meet. People that can help you. We'll go see them after school, okay?"
"You don't mind if I ... come with you?" He was in shock, with everything in his voice and body language showing it. He's definitely not acting now. This isn't faked. "You really think we can change all of this?"
"I don't know for sure, but I'm going to try. We are going to try. You want to, right?"
"Yeah," he said, and for the first time in days, Theo relaxed and the tension seemed to fade from him. "I want to."
Anything is possible.
Lucy was most of the way to her first class, when she realised her biology textbook was still in her locker down the other end of the school. Swearing to herself, she hurried along the empty hallways, gaining some dirty looks from a pair of teacher aides and snappy comments from the senior dean. Taking a shortcut around the side of B Block, Lucy entered through the end door and ran into someone coming the other way. The other person stopped short from the impact, and so did she, backing up a step to grab the door handle for balance.
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-"
She stopped immediately.
It was Darren.
In the same moment, sounds came from outside, conspicuous in the exterior's stillness with all the students tucked away in class. It was shoes on the concrete walkway, male voices talking; both her attention and Darren's flicked to the noise. Through B Block's corridor windows, they could see three men approaching. Two anonymous suits were flanking a third man, who seemed to be the ranking important one. Lucy recognised him as the same guy who had been talking to Celeste the previous day; the trenchcoat-wearing gumshoe. All three were in conversation, walking together to the other block entrance, which intersected the corridor back where Darren had just come from.
In a heartbeat, Lucy knew what was happening.
Darren's head whipped back to her. His cool seriousness was ever present, with his greeting as humourless as his tone.
"Miss Atkinson. Apology accepted." He nodded, unsmiling and unfriendly. "If you will step out of the doorway, I have an appointment to attend."
"Hi, Darren." She grinned, maybe a little too widely, a little too eagerly. Taking another step back, Lucy pushed the door fully shut, and leaned against it. "You're leaving school early. Aren't you gonna greet those visitors? They look important."
"My business is none of your concern." He took a step forward, his stance and size intended to be a clear warning. "Now, you need to make way, before I do something you will regret."
"Oooh. Never been threatened by a teacher before. That's new." Her stare was smug defiance, with not one ounce of fear. "Only, you aren't really a teacher, and your business definitely is their business. Didn't the Conclave send a memo?"
"Ah," he breathed, realisation arriving with a slow shake of his head, "so you are involved. Brash. This is the final time, little girl." Darren focused, the peculiar invasive sensation of his coercion pressing against Lucy's mind, heavy-handed and blunt this time. "You will move."
"Mmmfh." Her cheek twitched and she shuddered, but it was momentary, passing. Darren's angry glare had turned incredulous, disbelieving. "That shit feels weird. Just how pissed off do you get when we don't obey you?"
His hand shot out, gripping her by the throat. Instinctively, she thrust a leg forward and up, a swift kick right into his groin, jerking her head back and knocking his arm free with a swipe of both her own. For a moment he was on the defensive, and her training took over; in the space opened up between them, two more swift kicks were delivered to the ribs and upper torso, before Darren was able to block the third. She didn't have much mass, but Lucy knew how to leverage her technique and speed against larger opponents.
Only, the blows she landed on him felt harder than any human she had struck. It was like hitting an actual wall.
There was only a moment to realise this before his counter was swinging with incredible speed and force directly at her face, an open backhand.
It lifted her off her feet and sent her flying into the wall.
She was sitting up, her lip bleeding, lower back aching from the impact. He was moving in expectation of another blow, his upper body twisting, when there was the boom of a gunshot and he jerked back, struck.
"Get away from her!"
Darren hissed, clutching his ribs with one hand, and with the other he speedily threw the door open, the exit no longer blocked.
"Another time, gentlemen!"
The door slammed shut, and Darren was gone.
"Kid, ya alright?" The man in the trenchcoat was crouching, a Colt revolver in hand, the two suits following with their own guns out. "Hey, you're the Atkinson girl, Torsten's friend, ain't ya? Ya got some balls messing with him."
"Yeah, I'm okay." Lucy wiped the blood off her mouth and winced. Her back was probably going to have a nasty bruise later on. "Been beat up worse in training." She looked him up and down, and he did the same back. "Why are you dressed like that, and why did hitting him feel like hitting a brick wall?"
Crawley smirked. "Used to be a PI, which gives one of us an excuse for lookin' funny." He glanced up at the door. "As for Darren, well, dragons are heavily armoured no matter what they appear as. Giant flying tank, regular human tank. Take yer pick."
"Good thing to know for next time."
"Kid," he sighed, "there better not be a 'next time'. Yer gettin' into something ya shouldn't. For now, we gotta go talk to yer principal about this, and you -- you need to go home."
Nothing but endless fields of flame and ash, as far as the mind could tell. Pared down to rock and bare dirt, it was league upon league of blasted desolation and barren wastes, a landscape so purified that nothing would grow. All withered, all cleansed.
Gloom was cast from the monstrous shape against the sun, and the darkness followed the contours of the consecrated ground, obscuring mountain, plain and valley. An enormous shadow was moving upon the surface, the dim flickering of a winged silhouette reproduced in the turbulent hurricane of its passage.
The landing was an earthquake, the footfalls craters, the mere presence upon earth a heaviness that fissured stone. Above, the sky, too, was rent by a roar of conquest, clouds dispersed from the thunderous reprise, a supreme echoing call that demanded absolute fealty from the entire world.
A voice, calling his name.
A booming whisper, horizon to horizon.
His eyes opened to the bedroom interior and he sat up.
"That is your name, isn't it?"
The speaker was an old woman, with a clever matronly look to her. She was sitting in a chair near the door, patiently awaiting his consciousness. Uninterested, Araziah pulled back the covers entirely, the pain of injury now reduced to no more than an afterthought, his left shoulder moving almost as easily as the right. Naked, he stood, picking a pair of boxer shorts off the clothing pile left out on the nightstand, and pulled them on. He did not care about her presence, though she looked away out of modesty, and spoke once again.
"Do you know who I am? Who I represent?"
Araziah turned, still shirtless, movement easy and casual, and came across to her. There was a moment of consideration as he looked down at this woman in the chair, and the swirling possibility of insight solidified, the information coming to him.
"You are Celeste, and you fight for ... the Order?" He gave a thoughtful look. "What a curious title." Another moment passed, and his focus intensified, a pressure growing upon her, investing itself. "Tell me what you know."
"I'm sorry, I can't have you doing that to me." Celeste held up her right hand. A little band was on the middle finger, with a blue stone embedded in it. "I've been around your kind a long time. I know what to expect."
"Huh." It was a soft utterance with a flicker of amusement to it; a cat regarding the efforts of an especially emboldened mouse. "It is wise to protect yourself. If you will not be led, then maybe you will speak honestly. Your look is of someone seeking to convince. So, what is it you bring to persuade me?"
Her lips pursed, eyes shining with an unexpected glint. "Two things. The first is that you owe Torsten. He fed you, sheltered you and gave you protection even when he did not know what you really are. He and his mother need a minimum of respect if you are to continue here."
"But, am I?" His propensity to stare was as catlike as his attitude, disconnected and calculating. The way he watched was incisive and uncomfortable to Celeste, though she made care not to show it. "Nothing constrains me. You ask this nicety because you must. What follows will be the true question, and that is ... ?"
He left it hanging; a prompt.
"They require your respect." Her persistence was steel, and she repeated it with the emphasis reinforced. "We must come to an accommodation."
Araziah grunted softly, his lip curling, an expression of vague irritation. "She is in no danger, and he will remain unharmed, if he can understand his rightful place." He extended his right hand, palm up, a gesture of expectation. "I weary of this. Say why you have come."
"I shall be blunt. The Order works to stop the Conclave. They are the rulers of your kind. They will constrain you. You would be shackled to their ideals and their quest: to rebirth your creator, a dead god. Those dreams, and that voice?" Celeste pointed to the window and the outside world. "It will erase everything. There will be no freedom if he lives again."
"The Order and the Conclave." He sneered, turning from her seat to pad to that same window, hair sliding on his bare back in a slippery flowing motion that was mesmerising; poetry given form. The physical charms of these creatures were largely ineffectual on her, but Celeste could appreciate the graceful artistry they embodied. "A slave under one, and a soldier for the other." His voice dropped in tone, deeper and predatory. "Yet, I am stronger than all of you. My will is forever my own, and I obey nobody. Not you and not them."
"And not a dead god." Her rejoinder was quiet, but firm. "I don't ask your obedience. Just your help."
"Perhaps I will give it," Araziah stayed at the window, not bothering to look at her as he spoke, "and perhaps I will seek out the Conclave, to see what they offer."
"Please, consider well what I have said."
His voice dropped lower still, practically a growl, the boundaries of his patience being reached.
She said nothing more, rose, and departed the house.
Crawley was easing out of a drive-through in eastern Mirrorvale, when his phone began to ring. Pulling over, he finished a mouthful of fries and answered her call.
"Afternoon," he rumbled. "How'd it go? Get yer answers?"
"About as well as expected, though, no, not really." She slowed a bit, and an odd misgiving appeared, a sort of apprehension. "It's just that-"
"Wait a sec." He interrupted. "I know that tone of voice. Everythin' okay? Yer havin' issues, ain't ya? Spill it."
"Well, you remember when we had to deal with Glarucus? What he made Selby and Minato do? What he did to Hoskins? I know it was years ago, but, you remember, right?"
"Hrrm." Crawley muttered. "Hard to forget, he was the one who taught me not to trust a damn thing they say. That was, what, '97? '99? He was a real twisted bastard, even for a snake. Still, don't regret takin' him out of the equation."
"Neither do I, but, it's just-" Celeste stopped mid-sentence, the pause prolonged and uncertainty jarring. He wasn't used to her stumbling over anything they came across, because she had been with the Order a long time, and had plenty of knowledge about how to deal with problems they would face. If something was making her pause, there was a good chance it was serious. "Well, uh, Glarucus was an elder, and either the second or third strongest living psychic when we killed him. That was why I was given the ring, why we had extra help to trap and finish him. The thing is, that ring was the only reason he couldn't compel me, and it almost wasn't enough. Glarucus was close to succeeding, but then, today? Araziah tried to do the same thing, and he was ... closer."
"Ah, shit." Crawley swore under his breath.
The implications were bad.
"I could feel it. He didn't know, but he almost had it. He wasn't trying that hard, but if he had really exerted himself, I would have broken and done as he asked. If he can manage this now, what about older? You know how it works. Age makes the problem worse. He's not just going to be physically bigger, he's also going to have powerful psychic abilities, let alone the magical proficiency he has yet to display -- and his unique skill?"
"Teleportation." He sat back in the driver seat, and took a big gulp of his soft drink. "It's the fuckin' trifecta of what we don't want to see in one package. I told ya, he's shapin' up like one of their legends."
"He knows it, too. He didn't say he'd reject the Conclave, but he didn't say he'd help us either. He could still go either way, and if they make a promise or an offer that is too good for him to ignore?"
The thought was disturbing.
"Can't let that happen." Crawley stuffed another handful of fries into his mouth, crunching them down while he finished his reply. "Get yer contacts on it. We find ourselves in a shootin' war and they've got a nuke? Nope. Not gonna be that way. A contingency for him joinin' the dark side is a must."
"I may have to go out-of-state for that reason." She sighed. "Maybe for up to a week, back by next Friday at the earliest. I'll leave Torsten your number if he runs into any trouble."
"Speakin' of trouble, had a bit of fun at school this morning. Turns out the principal don't like guns being shot inside. Incidents in public places are just extra paper I don't wanna deal with. Flashed the credentials at him and the boys gave the nod. Shut him up quick."
"You shot one of them?! Seriously?"
"The guidance officer, the older one. He got away, but I winged him with a special round. He'll be feeling that a while. Kinda had to, the girl inserted herself into the situation. Y'know, Torsten's friend? The short smartass one with a Napoleon complex?"
"Lucy Atkinson?" Celeste sighed again, exasperation growing. "She really does stick her nose where it doesn't belong."
"Ain't wrong about that," Crawley agreed, "though somethin' interesting came up. Swear it black and blue that he's not just workin' with Nero, but they're almost certainly blood brothers. Human form resemblance is notable. If we can get a fix on this 'Darren', might be able to nail him with the same scheme in the works for Nero."
"I wanted to ask you about that, but I'm just about to have some unexpected company arrive. I'll talk to you when I'm done with Northwood?"
"Yeah, do yer thing. I'll stick it out here. Take care, okay?"
"You too. Bye."
Crawley flipped the phone closed, the call done.
The place they had chosen for her was dim except for the fireplace. With no windows and only one door, the ceiling was cavernous, the walls curving away into the recesses of an enlarged chamber, a subtle darkness swallowing whatever lay beyond the radius of firelight. The walls were fortified stone with polished wooden supports, the floor carpeted in a short soft fuzz, a pile of cushions beneath and around her. Upon the wrists and ankles were rope bindings, each extending into a tether that was pulled taut as they stretched to opposing walls, the bonds glowing with golden light, a magic of restraint. There was enough give to the rope that she could move a little, but not enough for real freedom.
It was her new housing.
"You are comfortable?" Nero sat down in front, drawing her attention, the crackling flame just visible behind him in the background, the hearth's edge peeking over his shoulder. "The human body is ... limiting, I know. I admit, I carry a fondness for the days when we could fly free without care nor risk. Those days are long ended, and now technology sees everything." He smiled a smile that was courteous, perhaps gentlemanly in a certain way, though, as always, it was for show. "Well, not everything, but their innovations do provide challenges in continuing our old ways."
"Where ... is this?" She glanced around again. "What place have you taken me?"
"Ah, you don't know?" Nero was teasing, and then he made a tch of denial with his tongue. "Sorry, it wouldn't be wise to tell you. I thought your lady would grant you such knowledge. Aren't you her favoured one, after all? Wisdom and foresight, and all the divine blessings thereof? Though, perhaps not, because we wouldn't have caught you otherwise."
"That's not how it works." Triskeleth was fatigued, wanting only to rest, but she maintained her concentration upon the room and her captor, ignoring his mockery. "The goddess gave me a gift. The future is flowing water, and it follows where it may. Nobody sees the river's end, not even her. Just glimpses of where the channel leads."
"Oh, 'the goddess'?" He leaned close, grinning, and gave a playful tap to the tip of her nose. "And I was told we were the arrogant ones? Have you forgotten the others your 'goddess' dragged into conflict? The realms of Air and Earth are not ungoverned. Neither is the last, and foremost, of these."
"In your mind, only," she told him, her passivity finally turning to defiance, "and to others, that kingdom is a ruinous thing."
"Four." He held that many fingers up, thumb tucked behind. "Not one, nor two, nor three, but four exist. No, it is in your mind, seeress, that the truth lies. Your predecessors understood it. The first of your line wrote it. He is a god, and he will live again, and you? You know this day comes. You wished it would not, you fought against it, and you sought alternatives, but, in the end, it is already done."
"Nothing is done."
"Yes, seeress, it is. The future is not flowing water. It is ash." His fingers moved in a bizarre sleight of hand right by her eyes, and in them was a circlet of thin burnished gold, in an elegant weaving form, like a garland of leaves. "You see this? They call it a 'mind clasp', and it is an object of some genius. If Darren were here, he could give you a more detailed explanation, but my expertise is not in the magical arts." He brushed the curving wreathed shape, admiring the woven threading motif of the design. "We dragons do love gold, so, you shall have a crown befitting your regal position."
With that, Nero placed the circlet on her head.
Instantly, she felt the effect as the magic activated.
Invisible, intangible, a wall of anti-perception sprang up. It seemed distant, outside the periphery of what she could tell, past the edges of the room. Still, she knew where it was, a spherical encasing bubble, just as she knew that the world beyond that dome of antithesis was ... gone.
Beyond lay an eternity of darkness.
With another subtle flicker of magical ignition, she felt the wall move, ever so slightly.
Her eyes glazed and she heard Nero's voice, though she no longer saw him. The shape of the hearth's flame was the only thing that stayed in her vision, a bright orange-yellow profile that was cartoonish and indistinct. The rest of it faded into the gloom that had formerly occupied just the shadowed surrounds of the chamber.
"How long do you have, seeress? How far can you flee?" His chuckle was peculiar, warped and melodic, the sound distorted. "When your time runs out, I will be waiting."
His presence faded, and she was alone.
In the distance, there was another shimmer of magic, a tiny blip of movement.
The barrier inched closer, the world shrinking with it.
Walking home was a weird experience. The day itself had been strange enough, with Lucy's unexpected absence from class and rumours of a shooting somewhere in B Block during the morning. Finally, there I was heading back from school, with Theo right next to me.
The same 'boy' that I had kissed just hours earlier.
It wasn't even the most significant thing that had happened, but for me it had definitely registered. I couldn't stop thinking about it. I had never been big on physical contact; I didn't mind hugging my mom and Lucy's intermittent moments of affection, because they both had a good knowledge of when it felt appropriate and when it didn't. The unusual part for me was mostly that I didn't often initiate it. Lucy often complained, very happily, about how I kept my cards so close to my chest, and that I was never going to 'hook up with a real man' if I didn't put myself out there.
Of course, those sorts of comments from her were the ones that I invariably ignored.
Though, on this day, I was starting to think differently.
My brain was content with the slow progress where it came to Theo and all the 'figuring out what you like' part of things, but there was a growing curiosity that I really could not deny. I wanted to touch him. I wanted to hold his hand. I wanted to try that kiss again, but maybe extend it, to let him react more -- and also because a tiny part of me, secretly, wanted to know what it was like to kiss a dragon.
Above all, I wanted to understand what it was I was feeling.
We were reaching the pavement in front of home when I spotted Celeste pacing as she talked on her cell. Before I could say anything, she spotted us, then swiftly finished the call she was on.
"Hey," I called out, waving as I did. She pocketed the phone, her eyes flicking between me and Theo as we finished our approach, and I saw a reaction there that I couldn't quite identify.
"Torsten." She said it slowly, and she gave him a long hard stare. "Is this ... what I think it is?"
"Right now it looks like a mistake." Theo was giving her the exact same look, and then he turned to me. "Tell me this wasn't a mistake."
"Both of you." I made eye contact with her and then him. "Take it easy. Celeste, I brought him here to talk to you. He wants to ... change."
"Torsten." She repeated my name, a note of warning clearly present. "This is a very risky thing to do. He could be manipulating you-"
"He's not." I shook my head. "I know he's not."
"And if he's not, there could be associates watching this," she snapped. "You cannot assume anything." Her anger was very obvious, but then it switched rapidly to compromise. "Listen. This is not the time. I have somewhere I need to be, and you certainly should not take your ... 'guest' ... inside."
"Bad idea. Trust me on this." She focused again on Theo. "If you are what he says you are, you should return again in a week. Then we will make heads and tails of what is happening. Can you do that?"
"A week. If I can, I will." Theo gave her the reply, before he looked directly at me. "I can't stay right now. Thank you. I mean it."
He turned and walked off, not giving a chance for my response, nor even daring to look back.
"It's best none of us linger," she said, "and you should probably head in to talk with him before your mother gets home."
Just like that, she was walking off too.
What is with everyone today?!
Feeling some apprehension, but mostly just the same sort of foggy confusion that had existed in my life for the last couple of months, I opened the front gate, walked up to the house and went inside.
He was sitting in the lounge, and stood when I entered. The jeans and shirt he was wearing were a bizarre contrast to his exotic appearance. Lucy had been right when she said he looked like something out of an anime, though it was his unreadable wary expression that made me think 'villain' much more than a hero. He was at least three inches taller than me, and maybe an inch above Theo's height; definitely over six feet. Yet, lighter, built more like a gymnast or a dancer, my clothes tight on his frame.
"Ah, you're here." Araziah sidled around the couch, and came to the spot near the door where I was, my feet having glued themselves to the floor. "Who was that? His scent is all over you."
"Uh, Theo?" I swallowed, feeling so nervous though I didn't even know why. "He's a friend from school."
"A 'friend' from school." He murmured it, disdainful, followed by an unimpressed huff. "You keep dangerous company."
"He isn't going to hurt me."
"Do you believe a few words of comfort, a caring glance, a second of compassion -- that will defeat the voice within him?" He cocked his head, a momentary amused smirk appearing. "He will betray your trust. This cannot continue."
"I believe everyone can change," I told him, "so it will continue, for now."
"Oh, Torsten." Araziah stepped very close so we were face to face, his left hand rising to gently squeeze my right shoulder, his voice dropping to a barely audible whisper. "You do not understand. It was not a question. You are a wonderful beautiful prize to have and you are not his. You will do as I say, because you ... are mine."
Araziah does *not* share his toys.
In other news, Crawley has avoided smoking a cigarette for one full chapter! Truly a miracle. Don't worry, folks, he'll be back to his vices again in no time.
Also, Torsten is getting curious. I think we all want to know just how curious he becomes, don't we?
As always, likes, comments, and any discussion is welcome!
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