Let’s Get Out of Here, Just You and Me

Let’s get out of here, just you and me. I don’t need the promise of tomorrow and yesterday tastes bitter in my mouth. I want to watch the sun rise over a landscape that breaks into all the things I never thought I’d see; all the things I was too afraid to reach for. We’ll take your car and I’ll man the radio, I’ll play the soundtrack of my life and you’ll smile like you don’t know. We can chase the memory of passion lost, a trail growing colder with every mile we leave behind.

Let’s ditch this town, this tired collection of haphazard streets and lawns built on haste and disinterest. I imagine blue skies and sweet air that isn’t heavy with all the choices we’ve both made, the words we never should have said, and pretend, for a minute, that the grass really might be greener. I want to grab your hand and leave the path we’ve started down, I want to scream fuck it all into the bleeding sun and give it all up. I want to take for granted everything I have with you and recapture the uncertainty.

Let’s stay up late and watch the stars move in tandem with the moon. We’ll remember younger days of whispered promises on shooting sparks in the void and the wild hope of a tomorrow that might never come. We’ll laugh at the sheer enormity of everything we can’t see and feel free in the face of all the things we could never hope to understand. We’ll pretend we’re not afraid and fall asleep as the moon dies and the stars sputter like the dreams we built in the dark, forgotten under the press of the sun.

Let’s make promises we can’t keep. They taste the sweetest as they roll off our eager tongues, like the temporary pleasure of a stolen candy and forgotten just as quickly. I want to pretend for a few hours more that this might last longer than a few hundred, uncounted heart beats. I want to sit here, hands clasped and sweaty, and pretend for just one second more that this might mean something. Something more substantial than time long lost and passed.

Let’s turn ourselves into something we’re not. I’ll be that girl the broken slivers of me once dreamed of being and you can pretend you’re everything I thought I wanted. We can build ourselves using the pieces others left behind; all those lofty ideals and unrealistic gems of plastic brilliance. A fair and convincing façade from across the room, just don’t get too close or you’ll see the cracks in the warped glass. We’ll be actors in a play that has no audience aside from our two silly hearts that are so damn set on ruining the lines. You’ll say you love me and I’ll smile and say ‘I know.’

Let’s say goodbye. And this time we’ll mean it, I swear. When we hug, our bodies disjointed and graceless as they collide in a mockery of the passion they once possessed, we’ll force our smiles and our words will slither all across our teeth. I’ll turn to leave and you’ll stand at your door, the one that was always hard to cross, and I won’t turn and you won’t wait. The door will click closed and I’ll get into my car and drive away. The anticlimactic ending to a tired song that I’d long forgotten the words to, but a part of me will always remember the chorus.

Let’s get out of here, just you and me.

The Queen’s Armor

The Queen’s Armor

By Brianne McDonald

 

Princess Amara did not turn when the door to her private chambers opened in the half darkness of a swiftly falling, winter night. Her fingers, pale and long with no ordination save her marriage ring, clutched the cold stone inlay of the windowsill with sudden, but contained, desperation. The moon, near full, was high in the sky and it held her gaze. The touch of its cold, silver rays chilled her far more than the snatches of frozen air that swept across her skin from the edges of the window-glass. It was a chill that dove beneath the surface of her skin, past bone and steadily thrumming blood, to the core of her.

The Capital stretched out from the roots of the palace in long, cresting waves and eddies that spanned toward the distant, shadowed mountain peaks of the south. Those peaks were violent and jagged, razor teeth in an angry, eager maw. She had never liked the look of them, not since she’d first laid eyes on them shortly after her hasty marriage almost five years ago. The city though, so vibrant, so full of life and variety, –so unlike the world she’d grown up in– she had loved almost instantly. Within its many turns and folds she’d often stood where she stood now and imagined a simpler life. A happier one that was not so far removed from everything she wanted. But the twinkling lights of thousands of homes and the lives they encompassed could not draw her away from the damning eye of her Goddess, hung like a noose among velvet and diamonds.

Amara felt the pressure of his gaze between her shoulder-blades, drawing her attention as the door closed softly behind him. Muscles tensed beneath a cotton nightgown and a fur lined, heavy winter robe. Her heart stuttered traitorously and her breath caught as the familiar, heavy press of his boots across lavish rugs neared. The smell of him hit her: leather, sweat, horses and spice. Her eyes fluttered helplessly, a desire that she’d long suffered pressing in on her and she wished him gone with an intensity matched only by her desire for him to stay.

“Amara, we must-“

“Don’t,” she said, her voice broken, “Don’t say it. Don’t say anything. I can’t bear it.”

She heard Brant’s steps falter and then stop. He was close, so close she could turn and stare up into his eyes that were as familiar to her as her own. Close enough that she could press her lips to his as she had imagined in weakened moments, alone at night when her husband had been away and her hand could slip unseen beneath her gown. Close enough that she might reach out and trace his jaw with her finger tips and catch the warmth of his skin against her palm as she’d long dreamed of whilst lying next to the man who had been her husband. Not her husband anymore, no, not after the terrible message they’d received the night prior.

The moist heat of Brant’s breath gently parted the loose falls of her hair and skittered across the back of her neck, effectively weakening her knees and quickening her breath. Her subjects called her cold, aloof, unfeeling; and it was a reputation she’d acquired through hard work and perseverance. Her mother had helped her to cultivate it and her husband had both appreciated and despised it. A façade only one man, one person, had ever torn away from her. And she could almost hate him for it.

“Tell me what I should do then, Amara. Tell me how I can best serve you. If it is to be in silence, then so be it, but don’t send me away, not again.” His voice carried a raw, desperate quality she’d never heard from him before. Her heart, already unsteady, pounded against her ribs in protest. She couldn’t speak the words she knew she needed to say, for her, for him, for her son and daughter, and for the kingdom she was now expected to rule. She couldn’t speak them because she knew the hope that echoed from him now. It was the same hope that had spread through her like swift poison at the awful news. The news broken to her, to their entire court, over the lavish Winter’s Feast, to a series of gasps, cries and shouts. The same hope that had overwhelmed her shock, loss, and terror for one bright, dreadful moment before reality had snatched her back up in its unforgiving wake. It was a hope, though short lived, that had been replaced by an all consuming guilt.

He grasped her suddenly, ripping a soft cry from her startled lips, and spun her fiercely around to face him. The touch of his hand, not felt for nigh on three years, burned through her thick robe like a fire too close to fragile skin. He pressed toward her and her hands, trembling now, caught at the stone weakly to brace herself.

Brant’s face was ferocious in the silvered darkness, the heat of his eyes battling the chill in her soul like a spark in an empty hearth. He gripped her arms in his large, rough hands and she hissed in pain and pleasure. The pain was far removed from physical expectation but was more akin to a near-frozen limb subjected to warmth, only rather than a limb, it was her heart. And she couldn’t bear it, not now, not ever again. If ever she’d needed her armor of snowy expressions and winter stares, it was now.

She opened her mouth to banish him from her presence, this time for good, but he was too quick for her, too determined and stubborn. He’d always been so damned stubborn. His lips bruised hers with their force and his teeth clashed against hers so hard her ears rang, but nothing could dull the sweet pain that rose up in her unbidden and unwanted. She tasted blood as his tongue pressed forward like a battering ram, not requesting, but demanding entry into her mouth.

Amara had seen men break. She’d watched as the world had taken them apart one small, almost forgettable piece at a time, until they were little more than flesh and weary bones. Her mother had taught her that women, though rarely physically superior to men, could build themselves emotional armor and weapons stronger than almost any plate-mail or sword. She’d crafted her armor and weapons carefully, learned to use them with wisdom and care. Now she felt the pieces of them break down around her as Brant’s grip on her loosened and her arms rose to draw him in closer.

She had loved her husband, Vrance, the Heir Apparent to the throne, now dead somewhere, likely loaded on a creaking cart alongside the body of his father, the King, on his way back to her with a beaten, ruined army trailing behind. She had loved him as much as she could love a man after her heart had already been taken by another. He had been good, kind, and honorable, a competent warrior, and a fair tactician with an even, merciful hand. The type of man doomed to die, her mother would have said. In comparison, Brant was not often kind, he was harsh and blunt, his honor he wore like a gilded cloak, to be tossed aside when necessary, and mercy was a thing to be avoided unless entirely warranted. He was also, more than likely, the father of the three year old Prince who would tomorrow be crowned King, making her the Queen Regent.

When he pulled away from her, their heavy breaths condensing between them, her back was against the wall and her legs around his hips. He set his forehead against hers and said, “You’ll rule this kingdom with a cold, iron fist. You’ll save them from the armies in the south and make this city stronger than it has been in two hundred years.” His hands slid her gown up her thighs as her fingers scrambled against his shoulders and gripped at the unruly lengths of his inky hair. Vrance had been golden, like the Prince’s in all the tales and songs, bright and shining. Amara had always found him too bright to look at for long.

“And I’ll be here,” he said. “I’ll stay in the shadows as I always have. I’ll protect you from anyone or anything that dares get too near.” These words he pressed like brands against the rapid thrum of her pulse where it sped along the white column of her neck. His teeth bit down and Amara let the last of her defenses go with a soft cry.

She had loved her husband and his father. She had respected them and admired them for what they were. But they had notions of honor and peace that dark times always ignored. Raised in a country that had been war torn long before her birth, Amara understood the reality of violence that a place like the Capital had long forgotten. What her country needed now was a ruthless detachment that would save them from the evil that crept toward them a little more each day. What her country needed was a few shadows to combat the tide of darkness before it swallowed them whole.

With the watching, glowing eye of the Goddess she had once served looking on in silence, Amara opened her arms to Brant, once the King’s closest friend, and the steward of their kingdom, and let herself become the Queen she knew she had to be. She would protect and save them, and he would protect and save her.

Killing Kings

Killing Kings

By Brianne McDonald

 

 

James nudged the lifeless body of the former King with the tip of his grime encrusted boot. He glanced up at me, flecks of blood on his cheeks, “So… that’s it then?”

I glanced around the massive hall, harsh noon-light filtering through the jagged edges of shattered stained glass windows. The floor was bathed in hues of red even without the added ambiance of all the blood. It was a throne room and I doubted it had ever been as silent and empty as it was now. The air was heavy though, thick with pain, fear, and death. It caught in the back of my throat like sticky sweet bile.

I understood the intent of James’s perplexity. It all felt very anticlimactic.

I wasn’t entirely sure what I had expected. Fanfare? Angelic creatures descending from the heavens to bless and sanctify my victory? I didn’t need a holy man or ancient tome to tell me that this moment was many things, but none of them were holy. I enjoyed battle; I enjoyed the prospect of death nearly as much as I anticipated the challenge of living. Call it a character flaw. I had many. I’d long realized that not all men felt similarly, but those who did were only qualified to a certain type of life. I was not made for quiet halls and gentle palaces. I felt driven to conquer, but never to linger, always I pressed on, searching for something I couldn’t quite name. I suspected it was a certain type of vengeance, though the perpetrators of my childhood suffering were long dead. I wondered who was I attempting to punish. All of humanity? Or maybe just those I felt deserved it. Those I felt were of the same ilk as the men who had destroyed my life, who had ruined the man I might have been. It may have seemed a heroic notion, but I wasn’t misguided. I was no hero. I was a killer and there is very little that is heroic about killing. It’s mostly a lot of mess. I found beauty in death and pain. It wasn’t quite pleasure, exactly, more like a reverent awe that I’d learned to appreciate and respect.

“Yeah…” I said quietly. A drop of the King’s blood slipped down the tip of my sword blade and splattered on the golden rug beneath our feet. “That’s it.”

“Huh,” James said, crouching down with a creak of leather and the faint grind of poorly oiled armor to roll the King over. The man was large, taller than either of us and quite a bit wider, and he flopped onto his back with a resounding thud. He was at least two decades older than I, with a carefully trimmed beard and thick black, gray streaked hair. His eyes, the color of dun, where opened and glossy, a very thin stream of blood creeping from the edge of his lined mouth. James reached out and pulled the crown from his head and tossed it to me with a sly smirk.

Driven by an instinct I couldn’t name, I caught it on the edge of my sword. I let the golden circlet slide down the blade with a cringe worthy thrum until it met the worn cross of the hilt with a sharp sound like the tolling of a bell. I had no intention of wearing the blasted thing. I didn’t need a crown to govern men. A true leader was evident from the moment he stepped into a room, or so my father had always said. Besides, we could use the gold. War making wasn’t cheap.

James swiped at his nose with the back of his hand, leaving a trail of dirt and blood like a streak of war paint across his ugly face. “What do you mean to do with his son?”

I sighed and turned, heading back down the hall. I didn’t bother to side-step the bodies. They were all dead anyway. James fell in step behind me, eying my raised sword and the crown it carried with amusement. There was very little in life that James didn’t find amusing, and I’d proved to be a never ending source for him. I could hear the voices of my men and the faint crying of women from the court yard below. The sound was more sobering to me than the trail of bodies I left in my wake.

“We’ll take him with us.” I said at last when we reached the end of the chamber and turned into a deserted hall. Several vibrant trails of blood across the worn stone indicated my men had already set about collecting the dead, leaving me to my supposed moment of victory. They needn’t have bothered. King killing had proven to be remarkably easy and uneventful, actually.

James shot me a sharp look, “Is that, er, wise milord?”

“No. But we’re going to do it anyway. Be sure to bring his wet-nurse, and do your best to keep the lads from her. One babe is enough to be dragging around with an army.”

James knew better than to argue, though his look told me he certainly wished to. He knew me better than most. We’d been on the road together a long while, but I would hesitate to call him friend. The man who considered James his friend was a fool indeed, though I supposed the same could be said of me. I had use of soldiers and allies, not of friends.

I couldn’t explain my desire to bring the princling brat. I had a slew of crimes under my belt, more than I could honestly recall, but I’d yet to consciously set about murdering a child. Though sense told me that if there were ever a child to murder, this would be the one. I was, after all, responsible for the death of its mother and the wielder of the sword that had felled its father. But something within me stayed my hand, cautioned me toward mercy where it normally did not. I wasn’t in the habit of over analyzing my instincts and actions, so I did what I had long done; I embraced the impulse and moved on. The boy-child would live and maybe, someday, he might even be of use to me.

 

Summary

Clans of Fire and Iron

The Balance has shifted.

Chaos blooms in the aftermath of war and the devastating fall of the Four Gods. The Summer Lands, the last free and untainted vestige of humanity, begins to slip toward darkness as agents of the False God infiltrate a crumbling infrastructure of complex politics and waning magic. The unwanted son of a powerful northern chieftain is sold to another clan in a bid for power as strange creatures and a poisonous pestilence begin to creep across the Clans. Pieces are sent into motion and the tentative peace between the Nine Clans of Summer strains dangerously as an even darker threat looms over them all.

Who will stand against the rising tide of subjugation and death when even gods may die?

Telia

Clans of Fire and Iron

Telia: Part One

Vibrancy- during Light and Flame

In the 105th year AF (After the Fall)

The Gav’ath Woods of Clan Val’more, Summer Lands

Telia bent over the dying man, slim, pale fingers searching quickly for his wound. She located it almost at once in the form of a deep slice across his large chest. The injury was jagged and cruel, as though his skin had been shredded rather than cut, the work of claws and teeth rather than steel and iron. Leaning forward, midnight hair veiling her face against the peering moonlight, she lapped up his thickening blood. Its coppery warmth filled her mouth and the Visions assaulted her immediately.

Reeling back a pace, nearly overwhelmed, she shifted quickly through the scenes and images like a scholar flipping through the pages of a book in search of a particular passage. Though she’d anticipated it, what she saw nearly superseded all her years of training. So much pain. So much terror. There is nothing to fear from darkness but ourselves, she thought, calming her erratic heartbeat with a few deepening breaths.

“Please… help me,” the man – his blood had named him Roul- begged from beneath her trembling hands. His voice drew her back to the present.

His companions lay unmoving around him, hearts quiet and chests still. Six armed and armored men torn nearly to shreds, tossed aside like so many scraps of unwanted food. The smell of death, pain, and fear was heavy in the lush forest air, thickening like the blood on her tongue. Telia was lucky to have found one of them alive, a break in their long, largely fruitless journey. Vision could only be achieved through the blood of the living and unfortunately for the injured man, he would not be alive for much longer.

“Please… they came down… from the trees… their eyes,” he coughed and she felt hot blood and spittle spray across her face and chest, “their eyes burned.”

“Hush now, shhhhh,” she murmured gently, pressing a finger softly to his blood coated lips. He quieted, relaxing as the power of her voice swept through him.

She sang Roul into an easy and painless death. Partially in thanks for the information his blood had given her and partially to ease her own guilt. She could do nothing for him and he would not make it back to the village. When his last gurgling breath had receded into the balmy night, she wiped her mouth on the back of her sleeve and sighed. His blood had left an awful taste in her mouth.

“Well?” Wyn asked softly from behind her. Her voice wavered tellingly.

“Another attack, they are growing more bold,” she said, almost to herself, lost in thoughts and memories that were not her own.

Turning she clicked her tongue sharply twice, waited, and clicked it thrice more in the opposite direction. The sounds echoed off the moss-covered rocks and massive tree trunks while she tilted her head this way and that like a curious fledgling. The forest was silent, as though it held its breath for her.

“They are gone now,” she said, “though it seems their path leads north, toward the mountains.”

She heard Wyn step around the bodies, felt the tremor of fear in each footfall and rounded on her in a flurry of deep violet robes. Telia slapped her apprentice hard, the sound of flesh meeting flesh a violent cry in the night. Her hand stung and it was almost pleasant, the sudden pain, it reminded her that she was alive. Watching the dead of the fallen  guard had left a residual numbness. Though she hated being so harsh, there was a lesson here that needed learning. For the both of them.

“Fear is the greatest of sins,” she said, “you must master it, overcome and embrace it, let it become part of you.”

She felt the girl’s anger, shame, and respect like a low hum on the air. Telia hoped she would not have to revisit the lesson again. Wyn was a good girl, talented, but young and sometimes headstrong. They had only been together for a few short months before they’d been sent out on this increasingly disturbing mission of rumors, shadows and death. Telia had always shied away from taking on a charge, though she knew it was an inevitable requirement of her. She had become accustomed to doing things and being on her own, relying on her senses, abilities and wits to serve her Goddess, but over the past few weeks she’d grown increasingly grateful for the girl’s presence.

“Recite our creed,” Telia commanded.

Wyn took a deep breath, “It is only in the deepest waters and the darkest shadows absolution is found.”

Telia nodded curtly and held out her still burning hand. Wyn returned her time-worn cane, smoothed by years of use, and she closed her fingers around the familiar wood. “Remember those words and when fear begins to take you… say them. Whisper them, sing them, scream them if you must, but heed them.”

“Yes Lu’selena, I am sorry.” The girl did sound contrite. Telia was satisfied.

Telia stepped away from the dead man, lifting her skirts and frowning. “We cannot pursue them tonight, but we need to warn the villagers and we are low on supplies.” They had been traveling for weeks across the southern most clans of the Summer Lands in pursuit of their quarry through forests and fields. They were both road wearied and disheartened.

“Yes Lu’selena. What…” the girl hesitated, “what are these things exactly? You’ve never truly said.”

“They…” Telia paused to considered her words carefully, “they are beings that should not be here. What brought them or how they came here is still unclear.”

“Does it have anything to do with-“

Telia raised a hand to silence her, “We should not speak of it here where anyone or anything might listen. I don’t trust the open spaces, or these woods, something sinister lingers. We must hurry now. I don’t want to be caught in daylight.”

They left the dead men where they lay the taste of life, death and blood a bitter sweetness in her mouth. She was tired, bone tired. Deciphering the blood of a dying man during the Months of Light and Burning had drained her and, not for the first time, she felt frustrated by the seasons and the ever-increasing limitations they placed on her abilities. Had they been in the months of Water and Darkness she’d have hunted down the foul creatures with ease. There was little use in complaining, she chastised herself, she had her duty and it could not wait for the changing of the seasons.

The village was not far, and their horses were where they had left them, tied to a massive thulla tree and lightly grazing. Sweet tepid air swept across her face mockingly. Telia missed the chill of winter with a desperation she was unfamiliar with, thinking with longing of the frozen Island that had been her home since her earliest memories. It is only in the deepest waters and the darkest shadows that absolution is found, she recited silently. The words gave her strength, just as they always had but even in her mind the words seemed diluted, as though they were a well she was slowly draining. Telia ignored the anxious itch between her shoulder blades and the unease in her heart.

The two women mounted wordlessly and took off toward the warm light of Southern Belle to the west, leaving the shadows of the forest behind.

The Kiss

His hand slides slowly up my bare arm, eyes following its path with a strange, arresting sort of purpose. The friction of his skin against mine sends a tremor through me that’s all quivering heat. He seems utterly entranced and I can hear the sudden catch in his breath, a low, visible hitch in his throat. Fear leaps in my gut and I can almost taste my own uncertainty, seasoned with a sharp unwanted burst of excitement.

“Y-your highness?” I manage to choke out. My voice seems to rattle faintly, weakly, in the charged air between us.

His eyes flicker, almost dream like, up to mine and I realize we’ve gravitated closer together somehow. There is such a deep, pervasive longing in his gaze that there seems to be less air in every breath I take. I can’t move. I can’t think. I can only feel myself helplessly slipping further and further away under a wave of something I can only barely understand.

“Don’t,” he mummers in a voice I’ve never heard. It’s deep and low, I can feel it vibrating through me like an invisible caress. “Don’t do that.”

He steps toward me and I can’t stop myself from giving ground, faltering backward. I can’t help it, I’m completely overwhelmed. I don’t want to accept what is happening to me; to us. I understand, distantly, its the worst possible thing we can do. The worst possible thing I can do. I want to fight it, to run away from him and everything he is forcing me to feel, but I’m frozen. I’m waiting for something I can’t quite comprehend.

“Don’t…what?” I manage. His hand shifts to my shoulder and the other is suddenly grasping my hip through my thin, plain gown.

A gasp slips, unbidden and traitorous, from between my slightly parted lips. His fingers are hot, so hot, strong and insistent. I want to hate the way they make me feel, instead I find myself hating how much I want them there. How much I’ve always wanted them there and how much I want to feel them on other parts of my body.

“Say it,” he demands and I can feel the delicious humidity of his words across my lips and cheeks. I resist the urge to flick my tongue out to taste him.

The dull moonlight is casting him in silver, lightening charged shadows. He’s beautiful and dark and everything I want though I know he is the very last thing I need. He tugs me forward with a twitch of his fingers against my hip. Caught off guard, my hands fly out to brace against the broad, unforgiving expanse of his chest. The cotton of his shirt is soft and fabulously warm and my fingers close helplessly into the fabric. My body feels out of my control and his hand glides from my shoulder to my neck, his thumb forcing my eyes to meet his. I’m shaking, I think I might be breaking down from the inside out. He’s unraveling everything I need to keep together.

“Say it,” he demands again, and there’s an edge of desperation there that echoes from within me. I breathe in through my mouth and I can taste him, he’s so close. Just the barest, most titillating taste of something dark and forbidden but unmistakeably amazing. I realize, suddenly, that I know what he wants and I hesitate on the precipice only a moment longer before I leap wildly into the unknown.

“Jaren,” I breathe like a prayer, or maybe a curse, just before his lips collide with mine like a summer storm against pliant earth, and his fingers fist into my hair. I’m lost, I’m broken, and I let go.

Watching

Thunder clouds rumble over head, bright tendrils of white, electric power tangling through purpled blackness in a mad, mysterious dance. All the secrets of the universe seem caught in the atmospheric battle above. The tang and spice of a desert storm tickles his tongue as Varence licks his lips thoughtfully, face tilted skyward to watch the show. He hasn’t been to this part of the world in a very long time.

“Monsoon season,” says a woman’s voice, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” Varence smirks slightly, but he doesn’t turn. He doesn’t have to. His heart mocks the rumbling thunder around them, wild and uncontrollable.

“And dangerous,” he says, leaning back nonchalantly against the red brick wall of the club. The bricks still carry the heat of the summer sun and the heavy bass from within reverberates through him, warring with the storm outside.

A woman, slight and delicate, peels herself from the shadows and he glances her way as a particularly vibrant crash of lightening illuminates her. She’s beautiful, so beautiful that his heart clenches inside his chest. It hurts to look at her, as usual, and he looks away almost immediately, but not before bitterly noting the bundle held carefully between her graceful arms.

“All beautiful things are,” she murmurs as she glides to his side. It starts to rain, gentle drops pattering off nearby rooftops and creating circular, widening patterns on the grease stained concrete. He can smell her, something sweet, something heady, something intoxicating, and it calls to the basest parts of him. It wakes memories he’s spent a millennia trying to forget. The warmth from her gently glistening skin is like a welcoming fire through a fierce blizzard. He aches to touch her, but he knows better. He knows he’d only be burned. His fists clench at his sides.

“Thank you for coming,” she says and he looks into her eyes, gold and blue swirling, mating in a never ending pattern. He could loose himself in them, in her. She wears a simple aqua summer dress that leaves her shoulders and knees bare, and her long, fiery hair cascades in ever moving ringlets down to her slim waist. Against her slight breasts she carefully, reverently, holds a blanket wrapped, sleeping baby. He resists the urge to wipe a stray rain drop from the infant’s creamy cheek. One look and he loves her instantly. He hates it, but he can’t help it. After all, the baby is a part of her.

“Why did you do it, after all these years?” He asks and he can’t quite keep the pain from his voice.

She sighs and shakes her head, eyes sad, “I wish I could explain it to you, I can only say, as the mortals do… that the heart wants what the heart wants.”

He snorts and shoves himself away from the wall, temper mounting. “And what about your baby? Was it worth cursing her to a life of fear and danger?” He speaks to the storm because he can’t bring himself to look at her again.

“Don’t be like this, Varence, I didn’t intend for this to happen, you have to know that-“

“Her kind were outlawed for a reason!” He shouts and hates himself for it. Years of bitterness, longing and pain pushing aside rational thought. “They’re dangerous and she’ll be hunted by both heaven and hell and you- you dare to ask me to watch out for her. After what happened between us, after everything you took from me, from us. Why! Why me?”

He swirls, intent on wringing a millennia of unanswered questions from her, and stops short. There is such a deep and pervasive mixture of sadness, regret, and grief in her eyes that it steals the breath right out of him. He feels defeated, broken. Her tears mix with the building rain but he knows them for what they are and it reminds him of the last time he had seen her cry. With her hand slipping from his as he’d slid slowly down into the darkness and dissent he’d chosen, cast out and reviled.

“I knew that I could trust you… I knew you would take care of her. Love her. I know the gravity of my choices, don’t think I don’t. But my daughter deserves a chance to live, a chance to be more than those archaic legends. More than a history written in blood and death.”

Varence shakes his head, “You’re a fool. You know that? Your child will never know peace, she’ll never find a place in this world… or the next. She’s an abomination. And you’re a hypocrite.”

She’s crying in earnest now and she steps to him quickly, thrusting the child into his arms with a cry that tears at his very soul, “Please! Please take her! I can’t bear to do this with anyone else, please, promise you’ll protect her as best you can. I’ll be watching, I’ll always be watching. I’ll do what I can, but the best thing I can do for her now is to leave. She stands a better chance that way.”

Despite himself, his hands and arms encompass the tiny babe. She weighs almost nothing, like he’s holding a small rain cloud. He looks down in disbelief at the miniature, upturned face. She’s awake and studying him with steady, vibrantly blue eyes. His heart is lost and he deflates, all the fight going out of him.

He looks back toward the woman who’d irrevocably damaged his heart and asks, “What of her father?” He doesn’t want to know, not really, but he has to know. He hadn’t thought she could look more shattered, but she wanes further, a mere ghost of the woman he remembers.

“He won’t remember me… or her. I made sure of it.” Her voice is matter-of-fact, but endlessly hollow. Before he can speak, she reaches out and touches her daughter’s face with a slim, perfect, shaking hand. She traces the fine, soft features and the baby coos gently. She presses a final, lingering kiss to her daughter’s cheek and it’s unimaginably painful to watch.

“I love you, Evelyn. Good bye,” she mummers and then turns to him once more. She cups his cheek and he hisses in pleasure pain. He’s waited many long, long years to feel her touch again, but not like this. Not when she’s only saying goodbye again.

“Thank you,” she says quietly and he wants nothing more than to hold her, to keep her here with him forever. But she was never his to have, never his to love. She steps away.

“Now, I’m as alone as you always felt you were, Varence, I hope that might earn me some forgiveness,” she whispers brokenly, and then is gone, melding back into the shadows.

He stares at the spot where she’d stood, “I never wanted that,” he whispers, “I never wanted that for you.”

The sky breaks open above him and lightening crashes, the trailing thunder caries the sound of her grief and he walks away, tucking the baby into the folds of his jacket to protect her from the rain. He doesn’t look back because he knows there is nothing left to see.