Late Goodbyes: First draft

It was a cold winter evening, the full moon already making its way slowly up into the stormy sky, sometimes hidden, then shining brightly through angry clouds. There was no other source of light in that cold English graveyard. Something that sounded like a clap of abnormally loud thunder startled a young owl into abandoning his hunt with an indignant hoot, immediately followed by a mad scrabbling sound, eerie until identified as badly laced shoes shuffling through the fallen leaves and twigs scattered all around, and over, the unkempt graves.

A girl scrambled out from behind an old twisted tree, and her eyes were wide with fear. She clutched at her side as she stopped to catch her breath, and the owl gazed sympathetically at the still-bleeding cut on her forehead. A muffled shout in the distance made both girl and owl turn warily towards the distant church, long abandoned to the elements. A shadowy figure emerged from the darkness, and as the moon shone momentarily from between the clouds, it reflected off the steel he carried in his hand.

The girl seemed to have frozen in her place, and she watched the hooded man slowly make his way towards her.

“Don’t make me hunt you down, sweetheart.”, he called out, and she trembled at the toneless sound of his voice.

He kept moving towards her, a deceptively relaxed finger poised above the trigger. She no longer believed he would not shoot her dead if she ran.

“Why are you doing this?”, she asked him, eyes full of grief and confusion.

He was close enough now for her to see him glaring at her, and her eyes widened as he raised his arm slowly until the gun was pointed at her, but she made no other move.

He smirked at her, and then fired.

The bullet flew off into the open sky, and the Owl took flight. She couldn’t stop her heart from sinking at that fitting final act of betrayal as she stood alone before him.

“You don’t have to do this”, she whispered, voice low and steady.

The hooded man took another step towards her, “You know you left me with no other choice.”

She bristled at that, “Don’t pretend like my choices had anything to do with what happened! That was all you!!”, she snapped at him, stepping forward herself.

He waved the gun at her gently, “Stay still, babe.”

“You don’t get to call me that”, she muttered under her breath; nevertheless keeping still, her eyes fixed warily upon his gun.

A moment of silence passed, and the man pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

The girl watched him as he took one out, lit it and inhaled deeply.

“Are you really going to kill me?”, she asked, plaintively, after he was halfway through his cigarette.

He looked at her thoughtfully, “I think so, yes.”

The girl glared at him, then looked sadly at the ground, “In that case, can I have one as well?”

He raised an eyebrow at her, “I thought you weren’t supposed to be smoking.”

A moment of silence, and then the both of them burst into laughter, the sound echoing strangely across the empty graveyard. They held their sides as they laughed, and she had to kneel down and he had to lean against a tree, and yet they could not stop laughing.

Until she rushed at him with something she had pulled out of her boot, and he instinctively raised his weapon and shot her. She cried out, then smiled, then fell in slow motion to the ground. He kicked over her outstretched hand to find a red rose clutched so tightly that the thorns had poked holes into her skin and embedded itself there, even as she bled around it. And around the bullet wound in her chest. She tried to speak, then coughed up some blood, painfully, and he stared down at her with eyes full of horror.

He knelt down then, cradling her blood soaked hair in his hands, “Why did you do that?” “Why did you make me do that?!”

She smiled at him, and tried to speak again.

He leaned in and pulled her closer even as she whispered something over and over again.

But understanding the 9 words she said in quick succession until he lost her to all the blood seeping into the earth no matter how hard he tried to keep it all inside her, that understanding drove him mad.

And after that night, his face lived under a cloud that never seemed to leave, his laugh never sounded quite the same, and at night, it was said that you could hear him cursing and raging through any thunderstorm, though curiously enough, he appeared perfectly calm and composed the next day, and his loyalest circle of servants made no mention or explanation of the absurd quantities of chinaware, mirrors and glasses they would constantly be acquiring and disposing stealthily off.

And the women he was involved with, only they knew of the nine words he would whisper in his sleep after a tiring, fun-filled evening at home. (Though the ones who mentioned it to him, or anyone at all actually, they never saw him again)

I love you, I forgive you, We are free.

Mr. Ebenezer Brightside

You watch her walk up the stairs, her hair so much longer than it used to be that you almost don’t recognize her. You wait until she pauses, then walk up to her and clear your throat. She whirls around so fast that her hair is still falling into place around her startled face when her eyes widen in recognition. “You”, she breathes, and holds out her arm – you aren’t sure if it’s to steady herself from the turn or to protect herself from you.

“I need to talk to you”, you say, and nearly cringe at the hoarseness of your voice, but her eyes are darting to the stairway and the elevator just visible in the lobby, as if calculating her chances of escape. You wait patiently as she fiddles with her hair, a different shade from what you remember too, and then sighs, “Alright. But, not here.”

Your relief quickly turns to confusion, yet you keep the expression on your face characteristically blank. “Okay..”

She knows you too well though, and answers the question you did not ask by holding up her hand before her face. It takes you exactly six seconds to notice; if the diamond hadn’t been shining so brightly in the sunlight, you’d probably have taken longer. Her hand trembles and she lowers it slowly, your eyes falling with her fingers as they clench into a fist. You look up to her to notice her looking at your face, waiting for your attention. She won’t say your name. “I have to go now.”, she says, and silences your protest before it has begun, “I’ll meet you tomorrow, by the War Memorial. In the evening, at six.”

Six. Once it was dark. She didn’t wan’t to be seen with you. She turns to leave and starts to walk away, and you can’t help but call out her name. She stops, but does not turn around.

“Who is he?”, you ask.

A strangled noise makes it way from her lips as she whirls around, her eyes wild and hair framing her face like the flames of hell, and you remember her from your days together at the war. She seems to struggle with herself as you stand firmly before her, wondering how things could have gotten to this point, until a cloud passes over the sun, distracting you into breaking eye contact, and by the time you look back, the moment is gone. She is standing tall before you now, the expression on her face eerily serene, and more so in contrast to the anger you could have sworn threatened to consume the both of you just moments before. She gives you a tight-lipped smile, her face pale, but her eyes are bright. “That is none of your business.”

She turns and walks away.

“It used to be.”, you call out to her retreating back. “You remember? When you begged me to help you? It used to be. Until you left.”

She pauses again. “Yes..”, she says, thoughtfully. “It used to be. But it is not anymore.”

And, with that she is gone. And the flowers you brought on your way here are suddenly too heavy and dead in your jacket, And the ring on her hand is now shining in your mind, blinding in its meaning.

You walk out of the complex in a daze and almost don’t see her across the road, swallowed up whole in the too-large jacket she has on. Someone walks up to her and hands her a cup of something warm and steaming, and you see her lift up her head to smile at him in gratitude and loyalty. You recognize the smile because it used to be you she once smiled that way for. And you watch as she adds sugar to both their cups, the wind carrying snatches of conversation towards you amidst this sleepy corner of the city.

She is speaking of Christmas as she hands him his cup of coffee; and the man leans forward and kisses her forehead.

And you turn away, suddenly sick.

Excerpt: The Cursed

“Why’d you do it?”

Her voice was small, but steady as she stood before Norflus and the bodies of the three young children.

“I had no choice, Saya.. You must believe me.”, said Norflus, taking a step towards her.

“You sick bastard… You murdered them! Your own children!”

“I only did it to save them! They were sick! You know that!! You’d seen Maya and Aliana yesterday! They could barely stand. And Ria hasn’t opened her eyes in 4 days! They’re at peace now, and I’m not sorry for what I’ve done!

The sound of a gun cocking made both of them turn around in time to see a disheveled Shade standing at the door, his eyes sweeping across the ransacked room.

“Saya, what the fuck is going on?”

 “Shade!”, Saya exclaimed, instinctively moving towards him, “What are you doing here? You need to be resting! Where are Tonya and -“

She stopped in her tracks as Shade pointed the muzzle of the gun at her, “I asked you a question.”

Saya stared at him in disbelief, dismayed at her training having seemingly failed her at this crucial juncture. She had no idea what to say to him. Besides the fact that it was dangerous for him to be here.

She watched his eyes sweep over the room, pausing over the bedsheet strewn carelessly over the bodies of the three young children. Oh, no.. Aliana…

Norflus now stepped up to Shade. “My Lord, I did what I thought best. Now you must do the same.”

Saya’s heart began to race. The Imperium would never forgive such a transgression. Already the walls were tainted with the blood of three innocents. Shade would be held responsible. The council was waiting for just such a transgression. The last thing he needed was to kill the one man who could offer proof before the Most Honorable Assembly of The Highest Justice.

She moved closer to him, and Shade drew back his pistol, cracking Norflus across the face with it. It took all of Saya’s training to not gasp out aloud at the sudden violence. Norflus fell to the floor in a faint, and Shade swayed himself.

“Shade!”, exclaimed Saya, slipping her arms around his waist to steady him. “Guards”, she called out into the hall, cursing the Others for letting him out of the Healing Ward and into this mess. He must have followed her. But why was he alone? His body was tense against hers, and she resisted the urge to dig her nails into his back, shocked at the suddenness of the thought.

In anger or in love? she asked herself, suddenly miserable.

Shade looked down at her, “I’m fine. You can let me go.”

Reddening, she stepped away from him. “You tried to shoot me.”, she accused, already aware of what was going to happen next, as if she had seen it all happen before. In the ghost of a dream, she thought, feeling her skin tingle as she watched Shade turn away from her and walk towards the murdered children.

Even though he wasn’t supposed to have entered the room before dawn. By then the girls would have been prepared for the ceremony. And he wouldn’t be walking towards their still-warm bodies on a floor slick with their blood.

It wasn’t your fault, she thought, her heart aching for him. But she couldn’t say that out loud. Because it wasn’t what she was supposed to say. He will curse now. Swear vengeance on the Introducers of this Vile disease. And Norflus.. And even me..

He stopped before the outstretched hand, that would have tugged Saya’s heart right out of her body were it not for her lessons in Momentary Isolation Techniques. “They need a proper funeral”, she said, finally, because that was what she was supposed to do, even though it was six hours earlier than when she was supposed to be saying it.

He will curse now.

A sudden movement on his part drew her out of her reverie, and she saw him on one knee, hand hovering around the youngest child’s hand, which stretched out from below the bloodstained sheet, fingers curled around a crumpled piece of paper. He took the piece of paper with his left hand, then covered her hand with his right.

She took a step closer, concerned with the different direction the situation was taking, and then stopped as she heard him speak. The Ancient Tongue! Tears sprang unbidden in Saya’s eyes..

He was praying for the children.

What had they done?

The Cursed – Excerpt: Nova

(c)

The ground trembled beneath them again. Yonas ran through the carnage, pushing his red hair out of his eyes as he craned his neck, trying to locate any of the Nine. To his right, he could see the brave Sir Richmond battling two creeps all by himself. He tried to catch his eye as he passed, but did not dare to linger. Ahead, in the mass of dust and sweat and blood, something bright and white caught his eye. The Queen of the Lost! He rushed forward, darting through the feet of men and beast caught up in a lust for battle that his young mind could not yet fathom.

He struggled to keep her in his sight, heart soaring with pride as he saw the Lord Shade and his young squire flanking her as she cast devastating spell after spell at the charging enemy lines, only pausing to summon up protective shields around her friends. The elven archer grinned as he spotted the boy, and yelled out to the Queen. But he need not have bothered, for she was already looking at him, a worried smile lighting up her tired features. She swayed, and the Knight and his squire simultaneously leapt forward to catch her, swords at the ready in their free hands, daring anyone around them to come seek a challenge. She smiled at them reassuringly and steadied herself on the forest floor, preparing to cast once again.

Suddenly, a sharp pain stabbed through his spine, and he dropped to the trampled grass, confused. He could barely make out the Queen’s distant screams as she lunged forward, only to be held back by Ether, even as Janek and Shgyar moved in closer and assumed defensive positions. Lord Shade and the Mhak man charged forward, but a tightening feeling in the pit of his stomach brought forth the sudden realization. He had been stabbed. And he was dying.

He could hear the Queen calling out to him, much like the first time he had met her on the bridge outside the town, her dark hair blowing about her pale face, even as Lord Shade spoke to her in low urgent tones. She had caught sight of Yonas perched on the tree growing on the riverbank, and she had smiled at him causing Lord Shade to turn about to investigate the source of her humor. For some inexplicable reason, he left his hands and hung upside down from the tree, reveling in her gasp and the pretty laugh that followed. She was the most beautiful lady he had ever seen. And, as he swung upside down on the tree, offering to pluck her some fruit for one of the pretty stones around her neck, he noticed the Lord watching her as she fingered the green gems about her neck, and when she screamed in delight at the berries Yonas tossed her, he saw that the Lord was smiling. Yonas had never before then even seen the Lord of Shade smile since he returned from the first Crusades.

But now she was crumbling to the floor, eyes wide and unseeing and pointed at him. He wanted to reassure her about his place in the palace of God, but did not know how to. He shivered violently, and felt rather than saw her helplessness and fear.

Another tremble took over the ground, and the last thing Yonas saw was the Mhak man peering down at him intently, even as Lord Shade cursed out loud. The trembling intensified, and the two sword wielding men turned just in time to see the burst of flames heading out towards them at a rapid speed.

“Nova”

Beware the Rose’s thorns

 Her Last Letter to Lord Stone

In this world of pain lies betrayal, you were the only person I ever fully trusted with myself. The only person who learned the truth about me. Sometimes I wonder if that’s why you loathe me so. Because of a weakness I shall never have the chance to correct. Because I had already disappointed you before you had ever even laid eyes on me, even though I redeemed myself from the image of the life you once thought I’d lead… Even though you were straight fingered and caught in your own pots of honey back then. While I, while I drowned in endless rain.

Sinister thoughts overcome my mind sometimes. Maybe that’s why I hate white. Or maybe that’s why I prefer the color of skin when it is devoid of any color except undertones of blue and white. But then I remember other paler faces, and I know that that’s not true. (Is this when I’m supposed to feel relieved?)

Remember when we were flung out so far in that distant painted phony looking sky? When we laughed so hard that I began to cry, like I always do when I can’t stand how happy I am, and you wiped away every last tear even as we fell freely to the ground that was so so so far beneath us. Whispering over and over, Don’t cry, sweetheart, I’ve caught you.

Except I took too long to fall, and the ground was actually an ocean, and the ocean swallowed you whole, and made you see me from a whole new point of view, and you could tell how broken and damaged and worthless I truly was. And I could not find you. Can not find you. Because you do not want me to, and no one can reach you while you’re gone.

And I’ve followed you into this ocean, beloved. This ocean of ash and dust. You cannot turn your back on me now. Not after all this time. Not after everything we’ve been through together. Not after everything I have been through in your name!

But now I see just how this test was designed for me to fail. How the past year was designed to lead to no other outcome but this. It was clever of you. An almost automatic response, I would assume. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see it happening. But I thought I had more time. I thought I had at least as long as some real betrayal.

If I had known that this is what it would turn into. If I had only known that the easier path would be all that attracted you, that you would rather run from something as simple as pain than stand your ground and be the man you swore you were, if I had known that you would actually choose mediocrity over meaning, as long as it meant the stabilization of your dominance and authority…

My father was right about you.

And this is the price of my disobedience.

On Literary Models and their Choosing

Excerpt from Article Titled: MISUNDERSTANDINGS SURROUNDING GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ by JUAN GABRIEL VÁSQUEZ
Translated from the Spanish by Anne McLean
Source: http://brickmag.com/brick-87/vasquez

Taking by storm a novelist whose method is useful for the telling of one’s own reality, that’s what influence is. Another way of saying the same thing: influences are only involuntary for bad writers. A novelist with a minimum degree of control over his material searches them out and chooses them fully aware of what those choices will allow him to do, aware of the risks he’s running and how to manage them. An analysis of the process of influences adopted by García Márquez sheds important light on the theme of the authentic tradition: for the successor novelist, tradition (from the Latin tradere, to hand over or transmit) is the receipt of a set of tools he chooses to inherit not by virtue of national ties but of literary ones: the tools he chooses to inherit because they will be useful to him in transforming his experience into literature. The writer, said Borges, creates his precursors. That’s how it is. The novelist, loyal to his parasitic vocation, takes from life the events that he can use to make novels, and takes from novels the instruments he can use to narrate those events, aware that the achievements of one’s predecessors belong to the successor. And in doing so he establishes a special relationship, a sort of search for identity that can sometimes pass for a confrontation with one’s literary fathers, and sometimes for their premeditated cold-blooded murder, but always passes for what Harold Bloom, in that marvellous and excessive little book, The Anxiety of Influence, calls the “act of misreading,” which can be translated as “misinterpretation” and also as “reading wrong.” The successor novelist, the novelist who receives the influence of an important book like One Hundred Years of Solitude, carries out a misinterpretation of the novel, a revisionist reading that departs from a necessary lie or, at least, necessary to the successor novelist: the father’s book is insufficient, defective, incomplete. The successor novelist says, My obligation is to fix it. This is the main difference between the mediocre writer and the genuine writer. “Weaker talents idealize,” says Bloom. Those with capable imaginations “appropriate” from other people’s books. Cheap imitators of García Márquez are incapable of this misinterpretation. They read in such an aseptic and respectful way that their products are mere pastiches, for they don’t have the slightest problem in repeating in their books the procedures they’ve read—repeating them, I insist, not correcting them. They thus become mere imitators when they should be critics.

Storms and Cottages

He woke up with a start upon hearing the heavy wooden door to the cottage swing open, drenched in sweat, and his hair all disheveled, yet instinctively reaching out for the sword. Before remembering that he had lent it to her.

It was hers in the first place, said a niggling voice at the back of his mind.

“It’s just me”, she whispered to him, the quietness of the cottage hidden away from the snowstorm outside suddenly too much to bear. Her eyes drifted to his slowly healing bruises and he looked away, scowling. He waited until she had knelt by the fire to stoke it before risking another glance at her. She appeared alright, he thought, as she placed the sword beside the door.

It was much too large for her anyway.

“Why are you smiling?”, she asked, curious. He blinked at her blankly for a second, before giving her a curt nod and gingerly laying himself down again, even as she turned to unpack the medicinal herbs and plants that she had been out collecting, wary yet hopeful that they would suffice.

“Did you run into any trouble?”, he asked, and her hands shook as she remembered the horrors of a nearby village she had stumbled upon, terrorized by a pack of vicious dogs, and their even crueler masters. They had followed her into the forest,barking and laughing as she had stumbled along with the village’s orphans. A year ago, they would have hunted her down and killed her, laughing as their beasts tore her apart. But the year had been a long one, and it had changed her.

Her voice was steady when she turned to answer him, “Just some hungry dogs. But I took care of it.”

The smile on her face was a new one.

One that hadn’t been there before. And he didn’t know what it meant.

Nevertheless, he nodded in a way she had begun to interpret as relieved, and in turn, she was glad that the darkening evening kept the blood spattered sword hidden from his sight. At least until she had had the time to polish it, and feel the sharp edge of its steel, light against her skin. Just once more, and then she would return it.

She was only its guardian. It was time to let go.

He watched her gaze drift to the sword by the door, eyes full of emotions he couldn’t begin to decode. He wondered if she had been living by this underground lake for the entire year that she had been missing. He thought of telling her how he had looked for her. How far and low he had searched. How desperately he had hoped and prayed.. How hollow everything in the world had suddenly seemed to be. How he had learnt what it meant to be drowning in despair, feeling insanity clambering on to the sides of his mind; the absence of her, a raw wound that never learned to heal.

But he was not the same.

And, neither was she.

By choosing exile, by choosing this, by leaving when the war broke out, she had made a choice. Abandoning him, but also saving him from having to make any sort of choice himself. They would have never trusted him as long as she was around. Her hair was too wild, and her skin wasn’t pale enough. She would never be one of them. He would have had to make a choice..

“I can mend your weapon, you know”, he said quietly, and watched as she whirled around to face him, body taut and disbelieving, eyes boring into his, searching him for any sign of deception, or doubt.

He showed none.

“You”, she whispered. “You can fix Estel?”

He nodded, then pushed himself off the bed, swaying as his feet hit the ground. She rushed forward, her small cold hands reaching around him, steadying him as he gritted his teeth and shook his head. The Winter had hit him hard. He would need some time to recover before going ahead with his plans.

He glanced down at her worried expression, before letting his eyes drift to where her pale hands rested against his bruised skin, causing her to blush and look away. He leaned forward and closed his eyes, taking in the scent of the forest from her hair and clothes, trying to figure out where exactly they were, and how he would get them out of there. His eyes snapped open and fixed themselves on hers as he smelt the blood on her clothes, not her own, and that on her scratched and swollen wrist, her own.

She looked back at him in a confused mixture of fear and raw, aching desire.

“I can fix Estel”, he said.

The Princess and the Blind

She walked up the narrow path, her long dark hair billowing in the wind behind her.

It was black once. But that was before the curse. And before everything in her life turned into the color of fire.

“Are you okay?”, asked the little blind boy. She nodded, and then feeling stupid, said, “Yes.. The path is just longer than I remember.”

And, it had been. The last time she had run up this path, she had been just a little girl, glad to finally be home, away from all of the horrors in the wide world outside. ..That was before she had taken the vow, and before she had worn the black. Now, she was just another passer-by. And the house was supposed to mean nothing.

“It’s time”, said the boy, and she nodded again, her gaze shifting to the ruins towering over them. It was.

~~~

The raven haired princess laughed delightedly as the knight pierced seven flying cards with his sword. And watching her smile set off a smile of his own.

“Would you like me to do that again, Princess?”

She nodded, and the knight watched her messy hair bob up and down with her head in rapt attention. Oh, how he longed to twirl a strand of that dark hair around his fingers. But, instead, he settled for piercing another seven cards of her new deck, losing himself in the tilt of her pale throat as she threw her head back and clapped at his boyish antics. If it were up to him, they would never march back into war. He had found himself a part of the heaven promised to them all in the name of their victory, and it was hidden somewhere along the contours of her narrow girlish waist.

~~~

“You still love him”, he said.

And she was surprised at the anger in his voice. Though she then realized that it was not so strange that he sounded so.. jealous. They had kept no company but each others’ in the last six months. Counseled none but each other. And the only time that she had gotten drunk in the last six months was in his company, when she had ended up revealing more than she ever intended.

“It does not matter whether I do”, she replied, wearily.

“He brings you nothing but pain”, he hissed, suddenly persistent.

She glanced at him sharply, and then turned away to watch the changing skies.

He dropped his gaze, and shuffled his feet forlornly, until she turned to face him again, the wind setting free strands of her tightly tied hair.

“I’m sorry, princess. That was out of line.”

~~~

He yanked her to himself, and laughed as she stumbled, his arms already enclosing her. She turned up to say something, but he had captured her lips in a searing kiss, and she wondered how she was going to walk away unscathed from this life lesson, even as his voice drifted into her aching mind.

“Are you okay, princess?”

“What– what are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, princess. That was out of line.”

“But.. wait! You said you had something to say.. What was it?”

“I don’t like repeating myself”

“But what did you say”

“Does it matter?”

“It does.. to me.”

He smiled at her confused expression, before kissing her forehead gently.

“You will always be mine.”

~~~

“Don’t worry about it”, she said, as kindly as she could muster, fingering the scar he had left her, flinching as she remembered the night he had given it to her. Perhaps things were never golden.. except until she thought about him. And then, it didn’t matter what precipice she thought of; all were achingly beautiful to her.

The little blind boy felt the expressions change upon her face, and knew that if he knew how to cry, he would, for her. For himself, too, as the princess was clearly never going to think of him in the way she thought of the fallen knight. But, mostly, his unshed tears were for the princess, because they would never find the knight of her dreams, and he did not know how to tell her this. Especially when she whimpered in her sleep.

The knight didn’t want to be found by anyone.

And two lost children, one of whom called out his name in her sleep, would not find him unless he wanted them to find him.

And it was in this perpetual fear that the little blind boy slept and awoke; that she would find him, and he would take her away.

Forever.

~~~

It’s cold, don’t you think?”

“Not if you come a little closer.”

“But you scare me.”

“No, I don’t. I only want to protect you!”

“From what?”

“Everything!”

“And what about you, yourself?”

“…No One can protect you from me, love.

Strange Dream

A little boy, about three years of age, runs awkwardly after a ball, laughing delightedly as a young couple – probably the parents – look on. A young girl, with dark tousled hair, stands on an iron gate that slowly swings open and shut. The house behind her is dark and ominous, but her eyes are darker still. A sudden fire takes on the field opposite. People are screaming and running, and everything is a sea of red, until there’s a familiar soothing voice calling for calm, even as a mad little girl, wearing a dragon helmet, hops away with the elves into the surrounding woods.

The crowd gives the crowned crones chance and chance again to redeem themselves. The crowd gets no second chance. And the Mother of the Earth drinks in the blood of a million of her children, and cries in silent anguish. Especially at the blood of the innocent. And it lines the snow, no matter how much snow falls. The Blood is Strong.

A little girl laughs, as she kneels in the dirt, surrounded by four little pups leaping as they try to reach at her face. A shadow falls on a village. It begins to rain. And, it never stops. Someone mentions that it’s raining blood, and I hold out my hand only to see that it’s true. But, it is not only blood that the rain stands for. Red is the color of Passion. Red is the color of Rage. Red is the color of Lust, of Betrayal, and yes, of Blood. But, it all begins and ends with Love.

It’s still raining when we meet the gray wolf. He sees only me. And the ice begins to melt, but it never stops raining. He begins to run, slowly at first, and it is easy to keep up. But, soon, we are racing across lands so vast that my head would spin, were I not so keen on keeping up. And the wolf stops, and I think, maybe I’m a wolf too.

But then I notice the dress I’m wearing, and it’s the wrong color. I never wear white. But, it’s snowing everywhere and there’s no other way not to be seen. The Wolf growls and suddenly we’re running again, only this time, it’s fear and panic, and thorns tear at my skin and dress alike, the wolf moving further and further away.

And, suddenly, I have fallen.

A fat king laughs at a jester’s joke, while in the woods the lions roar and the wolves howl and no man dares to go. The wind is cold, and the rain is even colder. It stings the flesh as it falls, and the King’s court titters and flees from the storm. Their pleasant tones and colorful garbs hiding terrible, vile secrets; secrets they trade amongst each other, even as they profess their loyalty to the realm. In the distance, the wolves begin to howl.

 Only Blood can pay the price of blood, he says, his eyes half-mad with the ghost of his child. The fire only burns higher and higher, as two infants shriek endlessly into the night.

“Confess!” shouts an ancient priest, and a raven caws noisily at the girl’s shoulder, even as she turns around to look me straight in the eye. When she doesn’t answer, soldiers come and drag her out the giant hall, but she never looks away. I want to tell her that it’s no use, and that I’m only dreaming, but she looks like me, and I think she already knows.

Suddenly, everything is burning. The horns are sounding. And, outside the walls of the tower, the city erupts in madness.  For an instant, it is a lifetime ago, and a fair-headed young child embraces her older brother warmly as he returns from a hunt. In the tower, the girl’s eyes are as fevered as the King’s. Her brother kisses her brow, and she finally falls asleep. Her brother begins to cry.

Only Blood can pay for Blood.

A lonely howl fills the night air.

But the infants have been silenced.

Until the skies themselves begin to rain fire.

~~~

The Lost Archers – I

Later, he would recall how the sun had nearly set when she had walked into his office; her slender frame fraught with a sort of tension that echoed in the sharp noise her shoes made against his polished stone floor; as it did in the relentless way she clutched at her deceptively delicate bag, even as she closed the too-large door softly behind her.

And he waited, silently, for her to set the tone of their meeting.

She took a step forward, taking a moment to focus, in the relative gloom of the room, and he waited, patiently, for that familiar look of pain and desperation that always danced just beneath the surface of the mask she had painstakingly perfected, always crumbling fascinatingly under some sorrow that she could no longer tolerate. Only for him.

She never came to him any other way. Not anymore.

But, she did not look at him as she made her way in. And the cruelest, hardest part of him wanted to laugh as he remembered their last meeting. No… if he were being honest, he’d have to say that she hadn’t really looked at him since the day they had said that they were going to vote in the new Constitution, and he had chosen to leave their little syndicate..

It hadn’t even been a minute since she walked through his door, and his peace of mind was already in pieces, but this was no surprise; and though he hadn’t moved a muscle since he caught sight of her, his narrowed eyes followed her across the room,  until she stood in front of him, with only his large wooden desk in the way. And, in the cold harsh light of his sunless room, he wished that the ridiculous ring on her finger would stop distracting him from those dark eyes she had on, and then wished those damned eyes of hers would stop distracting him from the edges of the worn out, ornate dress that was wrapped around her; but he knew what he really wanted: to reach out and undo it. Her. Them.

He motioned for her to take a seat, she graciously accepted, and he waited.

No one can understand me the way you do…

Mido.., she began, hesitantly, and he started at the softness of her voice. Surely it hadn’t always been this frail…

But, the war.. It changes people. Sometimes it destroys them.

And maybe he had forgotten.

She still hadn’t looked him in the eye.

Sūtra?

She lifted her gaze then, to meet his, even as he savored the aftertaste of her name. And, for the tiniest moment, nothing had ever changed.

It’s Agni, Ban, she said, frowning slightly.

He looked about them, and allowed a small smirk upon his face, “And, who are you performing for now?

She took  a deep, calming, breath of air, even as he laughed and leaned back in his chair,So, what’s the plan? Storm out again? Maybe disappear for another few years?

He was still smiling at her, but his eyes were hard.

You know I wouldn’t be here if I had any other choice.

So you keep telling me.

I -‘, she stopped to glare at him, her hands clenched tightly at her sides.

Why don’t we get you something to drink?, he said, making his way to the bar.Maybe it’ll help us…”, he paused as he opened up a new bottle of Scotch, “talk.

She shook her head, and he watched her bare wrists as she pushed back at stray strands of her long dark hair, clearly frustrated.A bar inside your office?“, her eyes flashed dangerously,Real classy, Mido. Must help with the ladies.

You’re one to talk.

I’m not the alcoholic slut.

He chuckled, “It‘s funny you would say so, because that’s not the version of events I remember.

“Shut up“, she said, through clenched teeth.

Why don’t you make me, Princess? I’m sure you’ve learned another trick or two since we’ve last met.

You’re disgusting.

He laughed again, “And yet, here you are. Again.

I- Yes.

She looked away from him, then.. and he followed her gaze as it fell on her ostentatious ring.

Why?

He knew why.

You know why.

It’s always nicer to hear you say it.

It was her turn to laugh, now. But, he intensely disliked the new way her voice drowned into corners rather than bounced off of them, and he waited, silently, patiently, for the mask to crack.

But, she wasn’t looking at him again..

“…I need your help…”