Monday, January 25, 2010

Thirty One

            The shock on his features mirrored my own as we stood for a heart beat taking each other in.  There were others, on the small stage, and when I realized a stage was what it was I turned, painfully slow… His entire Legion was seated in their great hall; some had all ready risen to their feet while others sat, in various states of shock and surprise.  It was so quiet, unnaturally silent, and then someone shouted, the silence shattered and chaos reigned supreme.  I raised my shield barely in time to deflect an arrow and barked a prayer and felt myself infuse with vitality.  Elethor shouted, and leapt for me wrapping me in his arms and lifting me, spinning me away from the crowd, as his magical wards went up. He put his back to his people shielding me with his body, his wards doing their work, deflecting their spells and arrows. 
            A man shouted to him, a string of language I couldn’t understand, but he was too close and right now everything was a threat. My attention diverted to him while Elethor’s attention was elsewhere, my mind, fueled with a surge of adrenaline quickly identified him as one who had been standing to the left and a little behind Elethor as he stood at the podium, addressing his Legion.  It marked him as a Centurion, and I raked my eyes over him taking him in and assessing what threat he posed to us now.  His skin was a dusty purple and his eyes deep and soulful, were colored a ghostly silver and striking, framed by long auburn hair.  His jewel was set to spinning between his hands and a great earth spirit rose up behind him, coming around the man and moving towards us.  I screamed for Elethor to look out, but he was unconcerned as he intoned a spell near my ear.  I watched in horror as the Earth Spirit drew closer to us and struggled in Elethor’s grasp to raise my shield in our defense, trying to get Elethor and my self both behind it.  A mighty crack, near deafening went off and Elethor’s sorcerer’s gate opened before us, the man continued advancing on us, just behind his elemental and was just outside of too close, he dove for us just as Elethor shoved me through the gate.  I went through, sprawling into the paved street beyond, Elethor followed and before I could scream at him to close the gate down his Legionary came through… though his Earth Spirit remained on the other side, facing away from the gate… at the churning mass of angry Asmodians bent on my destruction.
            It wasn’t over; even as the gate dissolved and collapsed I sprung to my feet, mace out shield up and put myself between the spirit master and Elethor, who was bent double behind me. I kept my eyes on the stranger as I carefully uttered a healing prayer for the man I loved… He straightened and held out his hand, beseeching the other man to stop, speaking furiously in Asmodian.  The man straightened out of his battle stance, and dropped his hands to his side, his jewel returning to its resting place at his wrist.  I cautiously let down my shield, and mace, trusting in Elethor that this man was safe.
            Elethor looked around us and said something to the man who jumped almost startled and took in our surroundings as well, which of course caused me to look.  I blinked surprised; we were on a vast causeway in a very large city.  Aion had blessed us, for the street was empty but with the size and complexity of design I was sure it was a heavily populated place and the street would not remain empty for long.  I quickly opened my cube and shoved my shield and mace away trusting in Elethor and his trust in this man.  I withdrew the cloak from all those many months ago and slung it over my chain armor, drawing the hood over my face.  Elethor smiled at me thinly, he seemed pleased, though with Elethor no one could ever be sure.  The spirit master’s eyes widened in surprise at the production of the Legion cloak bearing the stylized ‘p’ in flame done on the velvet black.  He looked at Elethor and asked something, but Elethor simply shook his head and took my elbow leading me toward a darkened alley.
            We retreated from the view of the street and momentarily safe I let my guard down enough to look up at Elethor, drinking in his features, still shocked that I stood here with him.  He bent carefully; his motions guarded and tentatively brushed his lips against mine in the barest whisper of a touch, so quick I almost wondered if it had happened…  I closed my eyes and swallowed the tears that threatened, relieved that my feelings for him had been felt in kind.
            “How is this real?” he asked, wonder in his voice, “How did you get here?”  I opened my eyes.  He brushed my cheek with the backs of his knuckles in a gentle caress and my heart seized, I took his hand between both of my own and kissed his fingers softly.
            “I don’t know…” I answered honestly.  “I was in a battle at the Western Shard, one moment I am trying to heal, the next I was pulled into the fray and a Templar’s sword was in my back.  I fell, and as I was pulled through the aether to my bind point, I found myself with you instead.”
            I looked at him, and he pulled me against his chest, holding me tight.  He relayed what I said to the spirit master over my head and I think explained who I was as he held me, trembling faintly as we stood there, drawing back to look at me when he was through.  He was as unreadable as always. 
            The spirit master spoke and I locked eyes with him. He stopped mid-sentance, whatever he was saying dying on his lips and tilted his head, looking at me curiously.  Elethor tightened his hold on me imperceptibly and asked something.  The spirit master shook himself as if waking from a dream and looked at his Brigade General before making a statement.  Gesticulating with a negligent wave of his hand at my face, I frowned at him and he laughed softly, continuing to speak to Elethor who relaxed, letting me go to step back and lean against the alley wall. 
            “What did he just say?” I asked.  Elethor considered me a moment.

            “When you looked at him?” I nodded. “Billy said he had always wondered why my favorite color was deep blue, and now he knows, it’s the color of your eyes.” I blushed to the roots of my hair, heat creeping in a wash up my face.  The spirit master – Billy, laughed softly at me and I averted my gaze to the flagstones.  Elethor inclined his head a ghost of a smile tracing his lips and took my arm leading me further into the alley. He unclasped the cloak at my throat when he deemed it safe and draped it over his arm.

            “You have to go back.” He said at last.  I looked passed his shoulder.  Billy had wandered to the mouth of the alley and looked out into the city beyond, attempting to give us the illusion of privacy, even though it seemed he could not understand the Old Daevic language we spoke. Elethor brought out an envelope of thick ivory parchment; I caught a glimpse of his Legion crest done in blue wax as the seal as he tucked it carefully into the chest of my chain armor near my skin.

            “Kiss me?” I asked softly.  He nodded and bent, carefully laying his lips against mine in another chaste kiss before tearing away and turning his back, shoulders squared and tense.  I bowed my head in sorrow and began the incantation for the spell of return.  I felt myself phase out of the physical world in Asmodae, one moment gone, the next I was standing in Teminon behind my beloved Aalairius who was shouting at Moia, the fortress soul healer, Toxemia standing beside him, arms crossed not interfering but not amused either.  I bit back my tears at having to leave Elethor so quickly, and took a deep breath stepping forward to end my beloved’s distress…

Friday, January 22, 2010


            I burst through the portal onto Teminon landing and hit the ground running.  I vaguely remember hearing Reilla shout from behind me to slow down, but I couldn’t… I wouldn’t.  My Legion needs me, was the only thought I had as I dove off the edge of the landing unfurling my wings, feathers snapping against the wind as I bore myself up and out toward the Western Shard.  I caught up to several other Elysians making their way to the fight, the apprehension thick between us as we fell into a natural formation, touching down at the lower end of the shard.  Reilla caught up to me panting and we waited as each warrior Daeva took off for the upper layer in rapid succession, the layer teleporter sweating and winded with his efforts as he put soldier after soldier through the proper incantation to infuse their wings with strength.

            I stepped up to him, mace at the ready in one hand shield on my arm and as the words died on his lips I was aloft, beating my wings, flight muscles in my chest screaming as I flew straight and true and burst through the crust at the top layer.  I tucked and rolled neatly my wings dissipating into the aether my feet landing square as I bent my knees to take the rough impact of landing from that height.  I stood and strode forward fluidly into the clash of metal, the shouts and screams and the light display of spells, the first prayer of healing touching my lips.

            Light gathered in my hands and a wounded Daeva stood straight, turned and dove back into the churning mass of bodies, her polearm arcing cleanly downward into inky black wings.  I fought and healed my way to the front of the fray, Elyos packed tightly around me until finally the shining figure of my beloved in his icy silver-blue plate rose head and shoulders above the crowd and I was by his side.  He had his great sword out and as he raised it an Asmodian assassin darted in to drive a dagger into a chink in his plate, I dove forward and rammed my shield into her path, the blade glancing off the metal with a shriek. I rooted her in place and the Elyos around me dispatched her, Aalairius laughed, a booming jovial sound and I heard him shout above the din,

            “Thanks beautiful, glad you could join me!” The Elyos were being pressed back by an onslaught and I put my back to my beloved’s and healed all that were close in my Legion, the complexity of the prayer taking longer but the result well worth it as at least six of my compatriots revived and pushed forward, meeting the Asmodian force with stronger opposition than expected.

            The two sides would surge and ebb as two great seas, crashing into one another before receding, a smattering of broken bodies in their wake, I would resurrect those that I could from their torpor, in a fine dance of being close enough to accomplish the task, yet far enough back from the front lines, to not be trapped in the surge and thrust to the Asmodian side.  Once upon a time I had relished battles like these, but now I worried, the constant niggling thought at the back of my mind as I performed my duties… was Evensong in there? Or was her Haji… Was my Elethor in there trying to hurt me? Did they know that I was here?  Then it was, as this thought flickered through my mind, I finished casting out, calling the souls of the fallen to me.  I noticed too late that I stood alone, the Elyos force had fallen back and I was in the open.  I was pulled violently in the inescapable snare of blue light from a templar, and before I could shout… before I could scream, they were upon me. 

            I felt the Templar’s blade enter my back in an assured deathblow had I been mortal, it caused pain sharp and immediate, a tearing and a searing through the center of my being as the weapon erupted through my chest and I was left gasping for air my lungs could no longer hold.  I had just enough time to let slip a silent plea to Aion for mercy, for a quick small death… my last thought as I slid to my knees my body dissipating, my physical being letting go of the world was thank you Father, thank you that it was not my Elethor…

            Elethor.  I had locked him away safe in my heart and forced myself to think about him seldom.  It was strange that as I was struck down that my thoughts would go to him….  My last vision that played out within my mind was of crystalline eyes and dusky blue skin, and the strong features of his face as he had carried me across the ice and snow the night he had found me.  Oh Aion, how I missed him.

            My physical self dissolved and was pulled through the aether to where my soul was bound, it was an uncomfortable and scary thing for a Daeva, not always knowing if you would or could make it back to your bind point… Never knowing if this could be the time you were lost for good. 

            Something felt wrong. It was taking impossibly long to reach the obelisk; I should have come back to my physical form by now. I was just about to tip off the razor’s edge of panic when I felt myself contract and coalesce, coming together becoming less transparent and phasing more into being.  I collapsed to my knees on the wooden floor; sucking air into lungs that were absolutely convinced they were still torn and could not hold any.  I knelt there for what felt like an eternity and tried to relearn how to breathe.  Everything was blurred around the edges and slowed, as it always was with soul sickness. 

            I forced myself to stand shakily, my wings dissipating back to the aether, my shield a comfortable weight on my arm, my mace resting on the floor gripped loosely in my hand. I went over the inventory of all of my soul-bound items in my mind, ensuring all were intact and in place and tried to ease through the rest of the fractured and crazed thoughts racing through my mind. One thought in particular screamed louder than all the rest…

            You aren’t in Teminon! Teminon is stone not wood! You’re somewhere else!

            I turned agonizingly slow and saw him standing there, at some sort of podium.  He was beautiful, the rich blue of his tunic complimenting the dusky shade of his skin.  I blinked in shock and confusion and rasped his name…


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Twenty Nine

            I hadn’t realized how much I missed the bustle of Teminon Landing until I stood upon the gleaming marble once more.  My armor still faintly reeked from they dye I’d used on it, and though the design was the same it still startled me when I looked down and saw a light purple instead of blue.  The dye had been a gift from Toxemia; he had brought it to me along with a new set of orders for my beloved.  While Aal had gotten ready, strapping on his plate in the next room Tox had given me a run down of things to do for myself to make things harder for Switchkin should he try to find me again, which was likely given that he was insane and obviously obsessed.  I missed the familiar weight of my shield at my back and my mace at my hip.  I just didn’t feel well defended with out them, instead I carried my staff.  A plain looking thing, unassuming… which is why I liked it.

            I needed to replace my shield, the one that had borne the Legion crest for Destiny was irreparable and though it saddened me, my friend the assassin had been right, I should not wear the Legion crest, either on my shield or my cloak, it made me to easily recognizable and Switchkin would be looking for it.  I had a week of leave to myself, a very long week, of no duties to speak of, I was bored all ready, and I missed Aalairius, badly and so I had come to Teminon to hear how things fared in the abyss and because I preferred the trade broker here over the Hall of Prosperity in Sanctum.

            Really I had come because I needed a change of scenery, even if only for a little while, and the scenery did not get much different than the abyss.  I slipped out of the broker house and outside, veering to my left to lean against the fortress wall and soak in some of the sun.  I had been going through my designs for my handy crafting and I had found something unique that I wanted to try, though it was vastly out of my usual purview.  It was a design for a shield, an ostentatious thing that resembled a Mikaron’s momento sea shell.  I had two of the delicate things tucked safely in my cube, though I need only one to craft the shield along with a host of other items.  I felt a touch guilty at how expensive some of the materials required had been, though for Aalairius kinah was no extravagance, I still remained frugal with my spending.  The fifty-four worthy morph catalysts had been outrageous and had lightened my purse considerably.

            I rummaged in my cube and drew out the small scroll that would teleport me back to Sanctum… I knew that Toxemia and Aalairius would laugh at me for this, but the shield wasn’t half bad, from what the design stated.  In fact it seemed rather sturdy from the stats listed. I was pulled through the aether and when I opened my eyes I stood nearby Elyos Square and the Sanctum obelisk.  I set off on foot for the crafter’s hall and the small accessories studio to spend my afternoon working on my new piece of armor.

            When it was completed I stood for a very long time looking at it, a stupid smile gracing my lips.  It looked absurd, and I doubted that while I wore it, that anyone would take me seriously but I had made it and I had made it very well indeed, so despite its frilly absurdity I would wear it with pride.  I went home, and slipped my tired and not oft used staff into the corner; I took my mace and new shield with me and headed for the arena, more specifically for the training rooms just off the arena for some practice.  Breaking in new equipment was always a pain and beside that, it would be best to get used to such an item now rather than in the field when I returned…

            I spent my afternoon sweating and taking hits until my shield arm went numb from elbow to wrist and my shoulder joint creaked in protest with every movement.  Finally the Daeva that had been sparring with me stopped.  He would duel me no further and called me crazy for wanting to continue.  He was right and I felt a little sheepish, despite the shields over all ridiculous look it was good and I didn’t feel quite as ludicrous as I strapped it to my back.  I shook hands with the training master and thanked him for his time before slipping out from the stone chambers beneath Sanctum’s arena.

            Though my hair clung to my forehead and the back of my neck with sweat and the grit of the training rooms, I was ravenous and opted to eat before bathing.  I slipped up the street, shoulders lax with tiredness and went up the sky bridge toward the exalted path.  I went to one of the smaller city tap rooms, it was lovely and open and allowed for a view of the street through high archways, and always in the open air it was recessed far enough back under the eaves to remain dry during the most violent of torrents.

            I settled into a seat at a small table for two just out from the cafĂ© out in the street and ordered from the Shugo proprietor, who had always liked Aalairius’ big appetite.  He bustled about and brought out a fine meal and I tucked into it with gusto.  I watched the people of sanctum go by as I ate, pausing to sip my Ormea juice between bites.  It was restful and the aches and tiredness in my shoulders eased.  I paid for my meal and sat basking in the light of Sanctum finishing my drink when I caught a glimpse of a small figure tearing through the crowd, running up the lane at full speed.  I recognized her immediately, partially because they looked so alike… Reilla, sister to Destiny’s Brigade General was in a hurry and I wanted to know why.

            When she was close enough, I stuck out my leg and as expected she tripped, neatly tucking and rolling in a way I always envied to come up onto the balls of her feet.  She whirled, her bow coming to hand, her face screwed up into a look of such fury which instantly smoothed when she saw who I was.  I sat up out of my lazy slouch and in a light tone of voice asked,

            “Where’s the fire Reilla?” she put up her bow and shifted from foot to foot.

            “You’re on leave, I don’t know if I should tell you.” She looked genuinely torn and it would be a lie if I didn’t say her answer vexed me so I solved her dilemma by squaring my shoulders and demanding in an authoritarian tone said,

            “Who, what, when, where and why Rei?  I may be on leave but I am still your Centurion.”  She smiled at me then, satisfied that Sin would find no fault with her now that she was under direct order and told me.

            “Who are the damned fur backs, what is they’re at it again at the Western Shard’s top layer, when is now and why… well do those filthy crows ever really need a reason?” she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the last bit but my thoughts were all ready whirling as she continued.   “The Elyos are getting hammered, Sin’s mobilized any in Destiny not all ready assigned.  Tox and Aal are all ready there…” and that was it.  I stood in one fluid motion, my glass tipping over as the little table rocked violently.  I grabbed Reilla’s arm and hauled her with me, she grinned impishly, a dark light in her brown eyes as we both made haste for a port to Verteron and the Abyss gate above it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Twenty Eight

            Sin and Boa were furious with me for drawing Switchkin off and getting my self captured again.  The healers had given me calming herbs, which had allowed me to make my report.  I had sat stoic and half addled as Sin had railed at me about duty and responsibility until the tears had started to slip and the healer had put her out of the room.  Toxemia was of a mind that I had been very, very stupid… when the herbs had taken effect and the sobbing had abated.  I remember looking at him, standing there with is arms crossed staring at me darkly.  He had simply said “You dumb.” In that way of his that always made me laugh.  I did laugh then, a choked thing that sounded bitten off and bitter at the end and lacked any humor.  Aalairius had glared at our friend and told him to get out.  I think he was frightened and Tox was a convenient place to direct his anger, our friend had shrugged and wandered off.  I think he understood.  Things became very hazy very quickly after that…
            Cursing, shouting and the loud crash of broken crockery, Aion’s light what is that noise? I remember thinking to myself.  My head hurt, a lot… and though I tried I couldn’t open my left eye. I turned my head on the pillow painfully slow toward the ruckus and saw it was a man two beds down from mine.  He was a giant, easily half a span taller than I was, and I was long of leg for a woman.  He shouted at the healers, and it took five of them to hold him down into the bed.  I reached out a hand toward them and said.
            “Please, please stop… it hurts.” And they all did, heads turning in my direction.  The man’s eyebrows raised and he stilled, surprise flickering through his clear gray eyes as he forgot his struggles and calmed. One of the healers called out, loudly, and I winced, but could not muster enough energy to call after them, to beg them to stop, the loud slap of their retreating steps echoing in my skull, each sound punctuated by an immense stabbing pain that pierced fiery claws inside my head.
            “I’ll be damned.” The big man said.  “She’s awake; I thought you guys said she’d never wake up.  That she was going to be like that forever.”  I closed my eye and swallowed… in that moment I wished ardently that I had stayed unconscious.  Oh Aion it hurt.
            They had returned with the head healer and given me something for my pains, then the questions started, about how long I had been kept and what the Asmodians had wanted and I was so very confused… What would the Asmodians want with a human Priest? They’d all gone quiet then and some had looked solemn when the big man spoke from two beds down.
            “Leave her alone.  Let her rest. She’s going to be here a while by the looks of her.”
            The healers reluctantly left my bed side, lest the man from two beds down cause another row.  His leg had been broken in two places, he had said from a great fall.  Now that he had settled and wasn’t thrashing and trying to leave I could see the splint, keeping the leg ridged so the bones may mend. He raked fingers through his tousled white hair and considered me a moment.
            “My name is Aalairius, my friends just call me Aal.” He said.  “Do you remember your name?” I sank into the mattress and rested my head back on the pillow, keeping my head turned so that I may see him.
            “I’m Sirona.”  I whispered.
            “Sirona.” He repeated, and it was like he tasted the name more than said it. “Pretty.” He commented before he laid himself back and closed his eyes…
             I woke with a start, the gentle caress of fingertips trailing the length of my spine.  I lay on my stomach in my bed and pushed myself up, turning so that I could see my beloved.  It was slow going; I was stiff and sore all over from the encounter with Switchkin.  I finished sitting up and took the steaming mug of tea my lover offered me, sipping carefully. 
            “You’ve been asleep for a long time.” He said.  When I remained silent, drinking my tea he continued, “It amazed us you stayed up as long as you did let alone that you managed to give a full report after they dosed you.  They gave you enough calming herbs to put a tipolid into a coma.”  He put his arm around my shoulders and kissed my temple.  He was silent for long moments, finally saying “We need to talk about this Sirona.”  He looked at me, expression solemn and I bowed my head.  I finally nodded.
            “What were you thinking?” he asked.
            “That he was a mad man and that I needed to get him away from all of you, so he couldn’t hurt you.” I answered truthfully.
            “That doesn’t make any sense.” He stated flatly.  I didn’t know how to explain it, I really didn’t but I loved him and so I would try.
            “I would rather die, true death, than know that you were at that monster’s tender mercies.  I would rather give my self willingly to that creature than have him touch you with his blades.  I had to protect you.”  He held me tighter and I rested my head upon the swell of his chest, listening to his heart and taking solace in his nearness and warmth.  He sighed.
            “Sirona, I love you, but it’s not your job to protect me… It’s my job to protect you, and I promise to protect you, but you have to let me.” He chided. I closed my eyes and nodded.
            “I’m sorry.”  I murmured and looked up at him.
            Aalairius traced my jaw with his thumb and leaned down carefully, brushing his lips against mine.  I closed my eyes and leaned into the kiss and he obliged me, deepening the contact, tongue flicking across my lower lip, tentatively first, before becoming slightly more demanding.  I eased myself against his chest fingertips caressing his collarbone before resting against the side of his neck where his pulse beat warm and sure.  When he finally drew back from me his expression was peaceful and he placed a gentle kiss on my forehead before taking the cup of cooling tea from my hands and retreating off the bed. I was just beginning to dose again when he returned, slipping out of his clothing and between the sheets, and gathering me close in his arms.
            He kissed me again, long and lingering, his large hand resting against my ribs the other at the back of my neck, buried in my hair as he cradled me against his chest and I sank gratefully into the strength of his embrace.  He laid me back into the softness of our bed, his lips moving carefully along my jaw to play along the side of my neck, and I closed my eyes, a tension I hadn’t even known was there easing from my body beneath his gentle ministrations.   He kissed down the length of me, hands caressing over my breasts drawing a moan from my throat.  My back arched beneath him and I felt rather than saw the smile grace his lips, as he pressed them over my own once more. His kisses became more urgent as our bodies twined closer and the heat built between us.  Finally, he broke our kiss and locked gazes with me.
            “I love you.” He said voice low and intense with emotion.  My “I love you too” was lost in a moan of pleasure as he took me.  My body bowing off the bed, bent nearly double back upon its self with the bliss of him.  He struck a rhythm slow and sure, his body tightly controlled, intent on drawing our time together out as long as possible.  I loved him so much, and I let the light fill my eyes as I gazed up at him, relishing the euphoria overtaking us.  He slowed and stilled to bend and kiss me thoroughly again and my chest squeezed tight with the beauty of his touch and as he resumed his steady pace, the fire within me stoked higher and higher until finally both of us went, gasping and laughing, our skin dewed with sweat.  We collapsed in each others arms lightly kissing each other where our lips could reach with little to no additional effort.
            Limbs tangled, I listened to his breathing slow, before deepening and evening into the steady pace of sleep. I lay there cuddled and warm, his breath playing against the back of my neck and I was calm and relaxed.  With a contented sigh I tried to sleep myself, drifting off lightly, warm and safe, my lover spooning me in the twilight of our bedroom.  Why couldn’t moments like these last forever?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Twenty Seven

            I heard the patter of rain and came awake slowly to the rich smell of earth and the odor of decay.  I had been here before, I knew the smell, and I also knew that it meant I was still in Elysea.  That was good at least.  What was not good was that I was tied to a chair, with thick rope that chafed my wrists, throat and ankles.  That last was really not good, I could feel the damp air against my bare legs, and the soft earthen floor beneath my feet, but I was dry which meant I was not outside.  I swallowed and cracked my eyelids, jerking back at his nearness, the tip of his nose nearly touching mine as he studied my face, his hands resting upon my bare knees.

            I dropped my hands, my shoulders at a painful angle before and the rope pulled taught against my throat.  I raised my hands back up.  It was meant to make me uncomfortable and with how close he was in proximity, I wouldn’t have enough time to choke myself in order to return to my obelisk.  Damn him.  I took a moment to look around and felt a small surge of self satisfaction.  We were, as I had thought, in one of the abandoned farm houses on Orton Farm. 

            Switchkin locked eyes with me, jade ice to sapphire flame.  He knelt before me, hands loosely resting on my knees, swords lying neatly on the ground to either side of me, well within a quick and easy reach.  He had been admiring his handiwork, and even now bent at the waist to plant a kiss where the scars began on my right knee, gentle and reverent as a lover.  I shuddered in revulsion and he smiled taking it as an invitation and bent further, licking a wet line from my ankle to my knee over the macramĂ© of scars he’d decorated my flesh with.  I screamed at him in fury, an inarticulate sound and struggled against my bonds finally relenting when my body demanded air and my joints screamed in fiery protest. 

            He laughed at me as I stilled, and sat straighter.   He knelt up higher on his knees, hands still on mine and laid a kiss on my forehead.  It was revolting, his touch slimy to me, an unclean thing I wasn’t sure even a bath could remove, after all you couldn’t scrub what was inside your head, could you?  He sat back on his heels and considered me.

            “Good girl.” He murmured as I stilled and watched him with a baleful look that thinly disguised my malice. He sat and stared at me for so long, almost as a child does with a new toy.  “You know what I want don’t you?” he asked and I nodded slowly, resigned.  He smiled at me.

            “You and I are going to make a lot of people hurt.” I blinked in confusion, now I didn’t have a clue what he wanted, but whatever it was, it clearly didn’t involve what I had thought seeing as I woke with no boots or greaves on.  So if rape was not on his agenda…  Stop it! I thought fiercely to myself.  I just needed to buy myself time, not worry about his intentions.  I was carefully picking at the knots that bound my wrists when he laid his head in my lap and closed his eyes lost in his own thoughts, he was mad as a hatter and I needed to use it to my advantage, I wasn’t sure how, but I needed to if I was going to make it out of this relatively unscathed.

            “You don’t want to hurt me.” I said, and let the confusion tinge my voice, trying to get him talking again. He kissed my knee again and his eyes were closed as he gently ran the fingertips and palms of his calloused hands against my scars, caressing my skin.  It was disturbing and perhaps rape was on the agenda for this afternoon after all, but I breathed out in a sigh and forced myself to relax continuing to bending my fingers at sharp and painful angles to tease at the knots at my wrists.

            “No, I can’t hurt you; you don’t give me what I want when I hurt you… No one has been able to do that before.  No one.  You screamed and you cried and it was beautiful, but it wasn’t what I wanted out of you.  I love you for that.”  He looked up at me, his chin resting on my paired knees and even though I stared back and searched his eyes carefully I saw that there was nobody home.  I swallowed hard.

            “What do you want out of me now Switchkin?”  I asked him, the first knot in my bonds freed, I quickly went to work on the second, Aion how many were there? 

            “I want you to hurt them with me Sirona.  You’re a Cleric; I want you to keep them alive so I can hurt them more, make them tell me all their secrets.” He nuzzled his face against the side of my thigh like some large cat and I shuddered.  It was dizzying the implication, and horrifying and sickening and I swallowed my disgust and did everything I could to make it appear as though I considered it.

            Aion save me from this mad man…

            “I see your point.  No one could resist that much pain forever, but what about their minds?  If they loose their minds what then..?”  I waited and watched his face, his shoulders slumped and he wrapped his arms around my legs and cuddled against the scars, laying his head in my lap, carefully considering and just like that, my hands were free, though I did not give myself away, his swords being too close.

            He knelt up suddenly, pressing his body to the front of my legs, gripping the tops of my thighs, his claws pricking my skin with the promise of violence and my stomach lurched as his body told me just how happy he was to be there.  He pressed his lips to mine and though I resisted he kissed me hard.  That is when I saw the potential for distraction.  I parted my lips and allowed him to kiss me the way he wanted to, his jade green eyes opened in surprise and I closed my eyes and just tried to imagine that he was someone else, someone I wanted…  one of the two men I loved, to keep the illusion clean.

            He relaxed into the kiss and I made my move, slipping my hands before me I raised them to cup his face and kissed him back lovingly, I let my touch be gentle and so lost was he that thankfully he did not notice my hands, not at first… by the time he stiffened and I knew I’d been found out, it was too late. I gripped his face even as his claws plunged into the meat of my thighs and I bit his lower lip savagely and with a cry plunged my thumbs into his eyes, blinding him, scratching his face with my nails as he fell back and reached for his swords, shouting and angry.

            Everything happened at once then; I tumbled to the side and picked up the heavy chair, holding it before me as both a makeshift shield and weapon… The rotting door to the farm house crashed in on its hinges, a hulking figure in blue plate roaring his rage, a blur of motion slipping in just behind him.  Suddenly the assassin from my nightmares was engaged, Aalairius slammed his shield into Switchkin knocking him into the farthest wall, Toxemia taking up position between them, blades out crouched and ready and I screamed as Switchkin, blinking blood from his scratches out of his eyes advanced on my friend, who with a wicked grin began his lethal dance. 

            I scooted back and gasped at the pain that lanced through my legs, and looking down to see my own red blood I drew breath and uttered a prayer, watching the wounds seal and the flesh mend with nary a scar.  Aalairius stood between me and Toxemia and as their Cleric I did what I was supposed to, I stood back and healed, cleansing their blood of the poison Switchkin had laced his blades with, keeping them fit as they beat him into submission, until finally with a roar and full bodied strike Aalairius brought his mace down and dashed the Asmodian’s head into a welter of blood and bone on the farm house dirt floor. 

            I stood gasping, breath heaving, and my body trembling.  Switchkin was making a terrible keening noise, high and piteous like a wounded larial, and as his body dispersed into the aether, I was grateful that it would stop… but it didn’t, and as I looked at my beloved and my friend in confusion, the tears welling and spilling hot down my cheeks I realized, the sound was coming not from my aggressor, the sound, the terrible wailing and keening sound… it came from me.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Twenty Six

          The days since my return had blurred into weeks, the weeks melded together into months and I had almost gone an entire fortnight’s worth of sleep with but one or two nightmares. I had been steady in my improvement and with that had come more assurance to my Brigade General that I could perform my duties as one of Destiny’s Clerics, without provision. Aalairius, Toxemia, and I had been assigned to take several of the mid-level Legionaries into Heiron, the reports of Asmodian infiltration activities having increased at an alarming rate… Aion I should have known. With hind sight there is always perfect vision, we had been too lax as we had approached Stenon Bay and we had paid for it with the blood of one of our colleagues as an arrow had sprung from their shoulder. Too late for recourse, the ambush was upon us. We were six to their five but they had the upper hand… I healed my people as fast and as sure as I could, my prayers leaving my lips and the light leaving my fingertips almost simultaneously when I saw him…

          His face was hidden beneath a mask of tragedy, but there was no mistaking that shock of raven black hair, nor the way he moved as he engaged one of the newer Destiny recruits, I knew I was not mistaken, and as he struck down the Chantress he locked eyes with me and I knew. There was no mistaking the icy jade gaze of my worst nightmares, nor the way his eyes crinkled at the corners beneath the mask as he grinned at me… the bastard. Switchkin the assassin who’d tortured me for four long days, the man my friends had warned me would not relent, he’d found me. Worse yet, he was close to my beloved, and my dearest friend.

          I cast a renewing spell upon Aalairius and one upon Toxemia and slapped Switchkin with a hallowed strike to slow the swing of his twin cursed blades and I ran. I ran as hard and as long as I could for Storm Circle and beyond, away from my people, away from the rest of my assigned unit, because in my heart I knew it was the only way to save them. My breath came in heaving gasps and the voice of panic tried valiantly to overtake the voice of reason that kept repeating that I remain calm. I listened to my body, heart pumping, blood rushing, and air filling and leaving my lungs and tried to find a rhythm to it all that would carry me farther from my legionaries, leaving them safe. I tasted the bitter copper of my fear and fished for one of the small enchanted rolls of Egrasi paper in my cube, I slipped one free held it before me and spoke the word of command written upon it, the paper crumbled and an infusion of renewal slipped through my being and I felt stronger, increasing my speed. I kept going, running with everything that I was worth.

          I let my stride take me south and flew as fast as I could across the aether soaked environment of Storm Circle folding my wings in and diving into a glide out the other side. I landed deftly and heard him grunt as he landed not far behind… I reached the small tumbling water fall of the stream that fed past Jeiaparan Village and I turned, swinging my mace free and shield on my arm and faced the son of a bitch.

          He circled me much like a wild kirrin would and I watched, waiting for him to strike, waiting for him to make any sort of mistake I could exploit. I had to get further away. He slid in the dirt and came to a stop not expecting me to fight, and oh Aion did I want to fight him. I spit in the dirt before his feet.

          “Not so easy for you now that I’m not chained to a post in a locked room.” Malice coated my words and he tilted his head to the side, much like a bird of prey that thought I’d just done something interesting.

          “I don’t want to hurt you. I’d like to but I don’t want to.” His Elysean was near perfect, barely a hint of an accent at all and I raised my shield and dug my boots into the soft mud of the marsh for a better purchase. He sparked his blades, running them down the length of each other and leapt, he angled his back to the sun and I raised my shield, temporarily blinded as I followed his movement, eyes watering in the bright light. What a stupid mistake! I got my shield up between us just in time, his swords making contact with the destiny crest emblazoned on it’s front, grating painfully down the shield’s length. The blow had been blocked, but at the cost of my arm going numb from shoulder to wrist with the force of it. I took the risk though blind and swung my mace and swung it hard at him, he leapt back and I hit the catch on the handle with my thumb, the weapon extended, catching him off guard… the head of the mace, loosed on its chain smashed into his jaw, the mask cracking and splitting, blood blossoming from a brutal gash in his lip. It was a glancing blow but he retreated, and I smiled to myself, a wicked grin… Perhaps I owed him a little pain after all. He pulled the fractured mask off his face and tossed it violently to the ground and spat blood after it.

          “Feel good?” he asked, and I raised my shield returning to battle stance, ready for the next round. His clawed feet dug ever so slightly into the loose soil, and I saw it, he launched forward and I spoke to the earth beneath his feet, vines springing forth to wrap his legs. I leapt back and shouted sacred words to the sky.

           “Kaheirgan!” the bolt of light sprang from the ground to smite him back a pace, and before he could recover I called down the lightning, a bolt from the blue striking him again before calling the wind to clap him into a stupor, but the last left my lips too late because he was forward and near upon me, blades whirling and slashing at me, and before I could regain my concentration I was off the ground and in the air, helpless in an aether hold.

          Aion! Father! Help me! My terrified mind screamed. I was suddenly on the ground and rolling away, but not quick enough. Twin swords point down crashed boldly through the front of my shield on either side of my arm and it was either let go or let myself be pinned. I let go and sprang back, swinging my mace before me to give me some clearance. He leapt back away from the swing and I rooted him to the ground once more, stepping back into the pool, sinking knee deep into the freshwater, it was not where I wanted to be, but it was the only place I had to go. I called upon the earth’s wrath and let the light smite him back, drawing another thunderbolt from the air, and finally feeling the spark of the divine within me I willed the aetheric energy to my hands as the roots snapped and he began his approach and called upon the wind and with a cry loosed the energy from my hands at him. It caught him full in the chest, staggering him back and I could tell it had hurt him, badly. A surge of triumph bubbled up in my chest but had no time to spill over as he regained his footing and slid to the side in a long step and disappeared from my sight. I picked up my ruined shield and went on guard, the falls to my back and waited.

           Damned assassins, bending the light and shadow to their will, hiding in plain sight, I ground my teeth in frustration and waited. I heard the splash behind me too late, I whirled but only made it mid-motion, the hilt of his sword crashed into the back of my skull, my eyes rolled up into the back of my head and the dark over whelmed me, I felt my self slipping and began to fall, everything sounded fuzzy and my senses went gray as I heard his swords sheath and the steel bands of his arms went around me, catching me and lifting easily.

          Oh Aion…

          Switchkin had captured his prize.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Twenty Five

            “Well, that does it.” Nepech straightened and held up a sheaf of thick parchment, the leather cover open and several obvious scouting reports sticking out at odd angles, though the script was foreign and unreadable to my eyes. He tucked them into the chest of his robe quickly thinking I had not seen and I allowed him the illusion. We had been back at the core for most of the day, killing Balaur and taking down a stray Asmodian ranger and chanter that cross our path. The day was nearly done and for that I was grateful. Nepech looked me over and finally nodded.

           “You did well. I’m going to recommend you be returned to field duty.” My heart leapt, but I quickly quelled my excitement when he pointed at me. “You gotta get those dreams under control baby girl. I’m telling you right now, no night assignments that have you sleeping out in the field. Your unit would be a sitting duck. You swear to me that you haven’t had any flashbacks?”

            “I swear to you Nepech, no flashbacks, no hallucinations, and no waking dreams of any kind, just the night terrors.” I held up my hand in Aion’s oath and he nodded, satisfied.

          “I’m putting up a portal.” He stepped back and made the incantation, the arcane energy forming a ring, then a vertical pool that rippled before clearing to a view of Sanctum’s proper. I smiled appreciatively and stepped through, Nepech right behind me. I breathed deep the scents of home and turned to Nepech a querying look. He nodded and said “Dismissed.” And I smiled and started for home.

           Aalairius met me at the door, and grimaced as he caught a whiff of me. I laughed, kissed him and took his hand, heading for the bath house. It was good to be home, and even better knowing I would return to my unit the next day.

           “Where did they have you go?” he asked as we walked.

            “The Eye of Reshanta.” I answered, with no further elaboration. He nodded sagely and did not ask anything further. Instead he held out his hand to me, which I took and we walked up the lane together in a comfortable silence. We chose our usual bathhouse, and as we rounded the corner I looked for the familiar shop shingle with the Mikaron’s memento carved into it, richly inlaid with gold leaf along the scalloped edges of the shell to make it stand out.

            Aalairius and I stepped into the greeting area of the small bath house and we were quickly greeted by Miriamonyerk, the regular Shugo on duty, the small silver bells she was fond of wearing on bracelets around her ankles chiming softly with ever small step. I liked Miriamonyerk and she held a particular fondness for me for when Elysea had undergone its last bout of the sweating sickness, I and a very few other Clerics had done our best to tend to the Shugo population that had succumbed to the illness. I had saved Miriamonyerk’s little brother, and just barely at that. It was something for which the Shugo mistress of Soothing Sea’s bath house was grateful and truth be told, her expressions of gratitude had begun to make me uncomfortable though I did not ask her to stop them. Though overt, it still gladdened my heart to hear how well her little brother fared, for we had nearly lost him.

           She chattered her tiny laugh and waved a paw for us to follow quickly when she smelled the Balaur reek emanating from my armor. I did not blame her, I despised the smell myself. We slipped down a short hall and through the door way leading to the small antechamber for changing.

              “Nyerk, mistress Sirona, leave your armor. I will have it cleaned for you.” The little Shugo said. I was fond of cleaning my own armor as a way to bring myself out of the field and back to regular life, but this time I acquiesced, nodding to Miriamonyerk. Aalairius, whose hands rested on my shoulders, gave them a reassuring squeeze. He had been after me for what seemed like an age to relax more and accept these small kindness’ I smiled to myself and as Miriamonyerk closed the door behind her, sighed, suddenly tired and grateful to be alone with my lover. Aal chuckled and tipped my chin up so that he may look at me. He searched my face with his gray eyes, the silver of clouds just before a rain, and I smiled at him. His look turned serious.

             “You look tired.” He said, his strong fingers working the leather straps and buckles just behind my shoulders to loosen my hauberk.

            “I feel tired love. Nepech is relentless out there.” I said it as he slid me out of the chainmail lifting the web of rings over my head easily, for which I was grateful. I didn’t think my aching spine would take it if I’d had to bend forward and shuck it off the traditional way. We eked me out of the rest of my chain and Aal out of his comfortable sobi pants and shirt and slid into the heated pool. I sank to my shoulders in the soothing waters and leaned back against my beloved who cradled me against him.

             “I love you.” He growled against the side of my neck, trailing a line of kisses, barely more than a soft touch of lips to my skin, down the side of my neck along my collarbone before planting a final errant kiss on my shoulder. I sighed and closed my eyes tension leaking out of me. He turned me around to face him and claimed my mouth with his in a lingering kiss. I smiled up at him as he drew back and he smiled down at me, reaching for the pitcher at the edge of the pool.

             “Head back.” He murmured and I complied, the warm water slicking my hair back from my face and trailing down my spine, the water in the pool suddenly tinged with a combination of the rusty color of dried Balaur blood and the copper dirt from the core. Aal drew me back against his chest as he reached for a vial of soap and unstopped the top tipping the viscous liquid into my hair. A scent rich with herbs and vaguely spicy filled my nose as Aalairius massaged my scalp, my hair engulfed in a frothing mass as the soap went to work on the grit and grime of battle. I relaxed and let my lover spoil me, enjoying his nearness and the feel of his arms around me.

              He rinsed my hair and we finished our bath at a leisurely pace, finally lounging at the edge of the pool on the low stone bench beneath the surface. I rested in my beloved’s lap lightly dozing when his voice came, low and soothing to my ear.

             “Who is Elethor?” he asked me, and I stiffened, jolting in the water, his arms going around me and locking me to him, steadying me.

              “I, why do you ask?” I looked up at him and he gazed down at me, eyes searching my face.

              “Who is he?” he demanded, and I swallowed hard and spoke the truth to him.

              “Do you remember, a few months ago, when I came back from the skirmish at the Eastern Shard, rattled?” I asked him. He nodded. “And do you remember the night before, the dream I had?” I asked. He drew me against his chest tucking my head beneath his chin.

              “The sorcerer. The friend of yours before the cataclysm.” He said a dawning of understanding in his voice.

               “Yes.” I replied, lips numb. “Why would you ask about him?” I asked.

               “You said his name. In your sleep the night before you left.” He kissed my forehead. “Were you dreaming again? About before?” he asked. I settled against him, suddenly uncomfortable in my own skin.

                 “I don’t know.” I murmured, and it was the truth. I didn’t know if it had been a dream of before the cataclysm, though I suspect it had not been that I had been dreaming of a land of darkness and ice, which the piece of my heart I had left in Asmodae had made its absence known. I rested against my lover and tried to force my lost love from my mind. We did not have to worry about any new assignments until mid morning, and though declared fit for duty, I was well aware that the duty my unit would be receiving, on a more likely than not basis, would be of a simpler kind than what we had done prior to my abduction.

                 My armor was clean and mended when we returned to it, and I was appreciative of the fine work and caring that had gone into it. I took my lover’s hand and we made for home, that night he would erase my fears beneath a cloud of tender caresses and whispered endearments until finally I drifted off to sleep, close in his arms and for once, in a very long time, without any doubts or worries, not because they were not there, but simply because I was too exhausted to have any.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Twenty Four

            I touched down in Roah Fortress’ courtyard and nodded politely to one of the Gallowglass’ on patrol.  Nepech landed beside me, jaw set in a hard line, his temper clearly outlined in the furrow marring his brow.  He looked me up and down and his look softened slightly.  I straightened and rolled my shoulders and tried to hide my weariness, but I knew that it was too late and he had seen.

            “You did good out there girl.  You’ve earned your aches and there’s no shame in being tired.”  He tipped his head from side to side, audible popping sounds emanating from his neck as bones slid back into alignment.   I was filthy and stooped with exhaustion I wanted a bath, a meal and my bed, I would settle for a basin of water, some rations and a cot or a corner.  I stood waiting for any additional orders.  Nepech looked at me for several moments before reluctantly muttering

            “Your dismissed, eat something, clean yourself up and be ready to go back out tomorrow morning.  There is a room for you passed the artifact chamber.  Mine is two doors down from yours.”  I saluted nonchalantly and dragged myself toward the ramps leading down.  First I found my self a shugo and sent the message to Aalairius that I was well, then I found myself some hot gruel, a washbasin and sighed with relief that there was an armor rack in my room.  I hated leaving my gear in a pile, just didn’t feel like I was taking proper care of it.  I shucked off my chain and hung it properly before collapsing onto the thin but sturdy mattress on the battle scarred bed frame.

            “I’m dreaming aren’t I?” I asked him. He bowed his head and nodded.  I stood in the white dress on the vast expanse of snow and I was not cold.  I looked at my bare feet, whole and unscarred and knew it was indeed just a dream.  Aion that hurt.  I gazed lovingly upon Elethor’s face as the flakes began to fall and closed my eyes as the tears welled.  When I opened them is when the nightmare took over. 

            Jade green eyes, as cold as the snow had looked andso terribly calculating much like kirin’s were inches from my own, he drew back just a little, and brought the glowing metal of his heated sword between us, letting me look, letting the dawning cross my face before drawing the blade slowly away, making certain I followed it with my eyes and it travelled lower and lower over my body before pressing into the flesh just below my knee.  The sizzling is what did it, the sizzling and the smoke rising and my voice rose with it into an earsplitting scream that boiled in my chest and poured from my throat in a scalding wave…

            Hands gripped my shoulders pinning me down, pinning me back as I arched, body bowing taught and I heard a voice screaming my name.


            “Sirona! Wake up girl!” Nepech shook me violently and after a moment of disorientation I snapped my teeth together and came back to myself and the borrowed chamber in Roah.  The abyss, I was safe… I closed my eyes a moment and felt his fingers dig painfully into my upper arms, and I knew there would be bruises.  I swallowed hard and turned my face, hiding behind my own hair, shamed.

            “What was that?” he demanded, his grip loosened on me but he did not let go.

            “I’m sorry.  A bad dream is all” I swallowed hard and repeated it, more for myself than anything, “Just a bad dream.” 

            We were quiet for a moment when finally the rumble of his voice came, asking “This happen a lot?”  I nodded, but did not speak.

            “Aion.” He said, and let me go. “How does Aal do it?  You woke the whole damned Fortress and set the guards on edge on the battlements.  We thought the damned Balaur were falling from the sky til we figured out it was you.”  He scratched his chin through his beard and I looked at him then wide eyed.

            “I… I’m sorry.”  I stuttered lamely, at a loss for words.

            “Its fine now baby doll.” He drawled. “You ever have any of these bad dreams while you’re awake?” he asked. I frowned at him.

            “I’m a Cleric of Aion’s light and a healer, not some green recruit damnit.  I know what a flashback is Nepech, and no it only happens when I sleep.” I crossed my arms over my breasts, the thin undershirt not leaving much to the imagination before realizing I was being foolish, and blushing.  Nepech, ever quick caught on right away, and started laughing at me, which colored me an even deeper red.

            “No you’re correct.  I may love Astat but I notice women too, so does he.” He stood up and stretched. “You okay now?” he searched my face.  I nodded and scooched down, bringing the regulation issue, stiff Fess blanket to my chin.

            “Good night Nepech.  Sorry again.” He nodded at me and went for the door, I watched the rectangle of light cast on the floor from the hall disappear as he shut it behind him and I was plunged into the dark once more.  For a fleeting moment I missed Aalairius and then the dark, and the beginning of my dream reminded me… and I missed Elethor, a sharp ache emanated from my cracked heart and I closed my eyes, shoving all of it from my mind.  When sleep came again it was complete, and I did not dream again.