Snow in the garden

Nica looked up at the dark wash of sky and sighed. She’d known she was feeling moody when she’d gone to bed, but she’d hoped it wouldn’t follow her into her dreams. She should have known better.

The normally lively wash of color was gone from her aunt’s garden, replaced by the tired greys and browns of plants hunkered down for the winter. Nica moved through them in a sluggish echo of her usual lyrical steps, just trying to push through. If she could reach their tree, maybe Seth would be there.

But the tree stood solitary and naked, empty branches raking across the cloud covered sky. Another heavy sigh, and Nica plopped herself down to wait.

Everything stood still. No bird song filled the air, no whisper of rustling leaves. No echo of laughter from family long, long gone. Nica’s throat tightened, and she took several long, deep breaths to chase the threatening tears away. What good was lucid dreaming when it only meant another chance to grieve?

A single drop of wet appeared on the back of her hand. Another. Another. They were cold, empty things, just like the garden around them. Cold enough, Nica suddenly realized, to be snow.


Delicate, lacy flakes fluttered down from the goose down sky. Big, fluffy flakes, as full and as puffy as the clouds that birthed them. Fine lines of white began to appear all around the garden, filigree trimmings along the decorative stonework and skeleton plants. The world turned ice, and in its own quiet way, it was lovely.

Nica stood up, unwilling to become another snow covered statue. There was still life in this garden, and she was it. With her breath coming out in cold, icy puffs, she began to hum to herself, and slowly, as her pacing picked up speed and life, she began to sing.

Snow always did strange things to the acoustics of the garden. Muffled echoes bounced back at her from every direction. The garden was filled with song and ice, crystalline structures and delicate harmonies, all elegant phenomena of nature.

Except, that last echo was too deep.

Nica didn’t pause, in motion or song, reluctant to break whatever spell had turned this gloomy dream into a tolerable one. She did quiet, though, trying to listen for the uncanny echo under the melody of her own breath.

It sounded again, this time to her right.

She paced a small circle around the central courtyard of the garden. Each time, the other voice seemed to come from a different direction. Her notes became sharper and clipped, taking on the heated edge of frustration, her motions growing harsher and swift. Soon, she was leaping around the garden, darting and running, rushing to catch that hidden voice, to glimpse that secret face–

A snowball hit her, square between the shoulder blades.

She whirled, spinning to see a completely unrepentant Seth leaning against their tree. He whistled a little chirp of hello, fresh snowball bouncing carelessly from hand to hand. She was surprised he could manage a whistle around that canary-eating grin spread across his face.

He whistled again, a hint of query in his note. Do we still play the game, my love? In answer, she darted forward, rushing into a diving tackle, carrying them both down into the now mounded snow. Laughing madly, they tussled and tumbled among the drifts, snow filling their noses and ears and eyes, and their laughing, open mouths. Finally she pinned him, legs twining about his and hands pinning his at the wrists. He hissed in pleasure, as she’d known he would. It wasn’t cheating if both parties enjoyed it, right?

He crunched up his stomach up as much as he could to raise himself up to kiss her. As cold as the snow on her cheeks was the heat of his lips on her mouth. She returned that fire many fold, hungry for warmth and for love and for life, all the things a wild heart held dear. As they kissed in the snow, the sleeping garden suddenly didn’t seem so empty. It was simply waiting.


Dancing with Fate

Seth cursed the red that marked his scales, so much more deeply than the simple eij of the king cobras. No, his scales were the scarlet color of Fate, a more demanding goddess than Li’Daea would ever be.
He walked the world for centuries, knowing, just knowing, that Fate was still marking him, dogging his every footstep, weighing his every friend or lover as ally or distraction.
Far too often, they were deemed the latter.
How many people had he lost, in the service of Fate? How many threads cut short by Ksm’s looming shadow? In the end, none remained, save he and Naj.
You will do great things, Kismeron, my darling son. You will be set above kings, set above angels, set above gods.
As he looked down over a kingdom ruin, the smoldering remains that stood ever present in his dreams, he could hear the goddess laughing.
To be smiled upon by Destiny was a terrible fate indeed.

Drabble: No Where

Moonlight. Why did it always come back to moonlight?

Seth leaned his head back against the enormous rock that stood as the only landmark in the otherwise unremarkable white land. This damned desert never saw any sun, any color. Just an endless stretch of white. He wanted to strike his hand against it, stain the land with one little bright spot of crimson.

Red scales on white. Red blood on sand. What was the point of any of it?

“What is the point of anything, dear brother?”

Naj was suddenly beside him. Seth’s scowl was suddenly deeper.

“I suppose telling you to go away would be pointless?”

“Especially as there’s never been anywhere else to ever go.”

He scoffed. “There’s always wherever you’ve just come from.”

Naj sighed, and stretched out in a long, indolent line. “No where to go, no where to come from. No where to be heading to. Why are we heading no where, dear brother?”

Naj has turned to look at him, but Seth kept his eyes resolutely ahead. “No where to go. Couldn’t have said it better myself.”

Naj didn’t strike him, but the flash of thought was fierce and intense enough that he might as well have. There was no hiding such thoughts here.

Seth didn’t react. Naj pushed to his feet with a sound of disgust.

“Always so maudlin, brother mine. You’re such delightful company.”

Seth framed a thought about leaving if he didn’t like it, which Naj immediately parried with the reminder that there was no where to go, and wasn’t that exactly what they were discussing, and who’s fault was it they were feeling so stagnant lately anyway?

“We aren’t discussing anything,” Seth said sullenly, tired of the mental assault. “We’re just standing around, airing out our petty grievances.

Naj glowered and mirrored back the exact impression Seth had started them off with: if he didn’t like it, why didn’t he just leave. Seth blew out a long breath and closed his eyes.

“Go away, brother mine. I’m tired, and not of a humor to deal with this.”

Naj exploded in a roar of fire, the proverbial phoenix finally at its end. There was no sign of him in the fire’s wake. Not even a scorch mark or foot print in the sand.

“Nothing ever changes here.”

Above, the moon continued to hang, and the stars stood their silent watch.

OC Interview

Been doing a lot of fun stuff over on ye olde tumblr and I thought I’d share this little tidbit with you all here on the blog. I think it turned out surprisingly well. It’s always nice to be reminded that the main three seem to carry on when I’m not looking. They came into this interview feeling one way (impacted by events that I’m currently unaware of), and worked some stuff out and went on to have a perfectly lovely time (I assume). Either way, I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Continue reading

Chapter 14, part 3

Kain watched the serpent fall as still as only a serpent could. But this stillness… It held notes of the dark ice of night, an element no serpent of spark and fire should be able to touch.

His lips twisted in a grimace. It was perverse what the Dai twisted their people into. Taking what the Gods had formed and blaspheming it to their own purpose, or worse, simply playing to see what they could get away with before Nature called their broken forms home. A cobra of fire with a heart of ice – even if Dev hadn’t said a word, he would have known the Dai’s influence.

Naj let himself fall automatically into the motions of his memories. He would not let himself rise from this place, lest the terror and passion of the now taint his thoughts. Li’Daea’s light had no place here, and the hawk burned with it. She had rekindled fire long forgotten in himself, but he did trust their use now. Later, he would walk in the light. Later, he would dance and laugh and sing with this hawk who swayed like a serpent. It was not lost on him that he, a serpent twice marked by Li’Daea’s fire, was asking the cold god of the griffics to help him free a raptor, so that she might dance again with Li’Daea’s light. Naj had no power here, no right to ask this, but it seemed the Dark God was willing to hear his plea in exchange for the many years this fire-blessed cobra had served in the name of night.

Naj opened his eyes and turned a gaze unseeing on the outside world. His vision swam with silver, lines of power tracing this way and that. He could see the echo of Nica’s performance earlier, the storm and the vines still hanging like ghosts in the air. Fainter lines traced other powers that had been used on this stage again and again.

They were almost invisible in the glare of the active spell that enveloped Nica.

Spidery threads crisscrossed her here and there, tainted with shadows of smoke. He let his eyes slide over them, not focusing on any one thing in particular, just letting the sight of it wash over him to see if any patterns presented themselves. One thread shone in particular, weaving itself in and out of the cocoon, only to exit it and shoot off into the ether. Farther from the cocoon, it dimmed and faded, lost in the darkness outside the glare of the body of the spell. Naj stepped toward it, letting it run just above his hands, examining it, but not touching it himself.

Echoes of the reality within Nica’s mind pushed at him, danced at the edges of his vision, called to him with screams and sobs and pleading, but he paid it no mind. If he’d focused on it, he could have shifted his vision to see into the prison her mind had become, possibly directly from her point of view, though most likely as a spectator, but it would have done no good. There was no precious clue to be learned from witnessing that, only distraction. Nica was fire to his soul, he needed ice. He needed cold, calculated distance, and he needed to hurry. The power the dark god had lent him would only last so long without a power source, and even as bountiful as his overfilled energy was, he was running out of time.

He turned his attention more directly on the single thread that disappeared into the nothingness. He could trace it back, but he had the feeling of enormous distance as he stared in the direction it had left, and he knew he had not the strength of soul to make that journey. Nor the time. Clearly, he was become more the child of Li’Daea if his thoughts kept returning to the passage of time in the outside world. The il’m was quiet, nothingness, eternity. Il’Dao was ageless and a thousand years was but a moment to the Dark God. But Naj didn’t have the strength of a thousand years to draw on. He was fading fast, whispers of his true serpent self showing through. In emotionless determination, Naj did what he knew needed to be done without giving his more passionate self a chance to object.

Naj reached outside him, seizing whatever power he found there. Most of the souls he touched were too young to be of any consequence, some almost weak enough to not even been felt. He reached out and brushed a mind cool and distant, and left a hook there to draw on if needed. It was not exactly what he was seeking, but if he needed still more power, he would need it with a quickness, so he made his plans now and laid them to wait.

Nat had barely closed the door to the downstairs when a mind brushed hers. She fell back against the door, eyes closing at the intrusion. Before she could protest, there was a small tug and it was gone again.

Her breath came quick and shallow, her amber eyes opening to stare at the stage curtains. Marie had said Naj and Kain had been fighting – was that what she was feeling? Surely not, she couldn’t fathom anyone being able to stand up to Kain. He might downplay himself, but she knew he was a force to be reckoned with.

And whatever she’d just felt had not been the big cat.

Which meant it must be Naj, but that… That alien brush had hardly felt like the serpent.

She pushed off the door, determined to find out what was happening. When she pushed aside the curtain though, she stopped cold, a gasp on her lips.

Naj brushed another power that wavered and flux, strong, but too inconstant to be of any use to him. This soul did not sit still, it would take more energy than it was worth to try and pin them down. He passed it by.

Most of his awareness, however, was drawn in by one shining soul.

There was heat, there was passion there, but it lay like a shimmering heatwave over layer upon layer of unyielding stone. The core of this power was immense, unmoving, and dark. Most importantly there was weight. This was a soul that understood the press of ages, and a soul whose song sang of power and untold strength. This was the power he needed, and he claimed it without a thought.

Diving back beneath the surface into the depths of his mind, he drug the powers he’d claimed with him. Later, his serpent’s soul would mourn for what he’d done to his friends. Later, he would apologize and face the shame of it, accepting if they chose to exile him from their nest. Even in raptor society, where much was excused in the name of power, what he was doing was done only in the most dire of circumstances, but the quiet part of him agreed that these were indeed those circumstances. But the serpent in him was too passionate to ever excuse the crimes he was committing against his fellow dancers. To invade another’s soul, to violate them in a way that mere physical rape never could – well, he’d deal with that after they’d saved Nica.

He returned to the place where he could see the demon’s magic, and reached out again until he found the singular thread. Armed with real power backing him up, he examined the thread to see what it would tell him. He reached out with a tendril of power, taking special care not to actually touch it himself, and sent a probing thought into it.

It dissolved like a wisp of smoke.

He stood, confused for a moment that such a thing would occur. He had felt the immeasurable power as he’d examine the line before, this should not have been a thing so easily broken. The demon that spun this was far beyond Naj’s skill and power level, and yet this single thread had dissolved at the slightest touch.

As his thoughts moved from line to cocoon, the power chased the dissolving spell through the many layers of illusions heaped upon it. It would have taken lifetimes to unravel if he’d had to have started from the main weaving. They had all been unspeakably lucky that Naj, with his years of study in demon magic, had been the first to make the attempt. Like spider silk, the web would have simply ensnared any attempts to probe it directly. Those desperate to assist Nica would have strengthened the demon’s hold, adding mortal power to the demonic aura that held her. Each hand would have made the spell more solid, more real, until an actual web of lies had bound her so thoroughly it would never be broken.

But to a demon, or those versed in them, the signature had been clear. The thread to unwind the spell had shone bright and clear against the chaos, but Naj had expected it to take much more effort to untwist. This…

This almost called to mind the practice of his earliest days, when demons who worked willingly along side the Dai had made weavings so simple that even the children they taught could unwind them. It was… well, almost insulting to be offered such a spell now. It was negligible, like an after thought. What had the demon meant by it?

But there was no time to consider it. Like the thread that had tied it to its master, the strings of the cocoon were unraveling and dissolving. Satisfied that the work he had been called to do was complete, the borrowed power of Il’Dao abandoned him, and Naj found himself sucked back to the here and now with frightening speed.

He gasped as his soul slammed back into his body, physically reeling at the force with which he hit. Instantly, his mind processed that he had been sitting still and cross legged at Nica’s side, breathless and unmoving. The power of the dark god had sustained him, as it did any raptor drawing on magics for extended periods of time. But as soon as that power had abandoned him, his soul rushed back to his body to nourish it. Naj felt gray at the edges of his vision, and more drained than he had the first time he’d been with Nica this morning, but as long as he held perfectly still he would not crumble. His heart beat frantically to pump oxygen back into his starved chest and limbs, the beginnings of dizziness and nausea curling around his brain. Before slipping into unconsciousness a thousand thoughts reeled through his mind as his soul caught up with him. What have I done. How long was I gone. I’m sorry, I’m sorry oh Nine Gods forgive me my friends forgive me but most importantly Is Nica ok?

As you may have noticed, today is not Asylum’s normal update day. That’s because, as of today, Asylum is on hiatus.

I’ve spent the past month trying to figure out how I want to do this, and I feel this is the best way. I’m about 10 chapters in to a revision of a Asylum that’s more streamlined, better paced, more in character, and much more coherent. Publishing Asylum to in an online format was always meant to be something that kept me interested in the project, and it has done just that. So much so, that my interest in continuing Asylum as moved beyond the scope of a web novel.

I want to get Asylum properly polished, trimmed, and in its best format. After working with this blog, I really believe this (new, streamlined version) is something I can query with, and I’m going to do just that.

I’ll keep this blog updated with progress reports, one liners, further tidbits of interests, and calls for beta readers. If you love Asylum and want to see where it’s going, hit me up. I am always looking for a fresh pair of eyes to go over my work.

It’s been fun. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. Asylum has come so far, and has farther still to go. Thank you all for your support. I can’t wait to meet you all at future book signings!

Happy Reading!


Chapter 14, part 2

Once past the ward, Kain’s thoughts flared wide, seeking Naj out. He followed the serpent onto the stage, slowing as he moved the curtain aside. There had been a tickle, something other than Naj for just a moment…

His eyes widened, taking in the sight of Nica motionless on the floor. Her eyes were open and unseeing. Her fingers were curled on themselves, limbs askew as if she’d simply fallen where she’d stood.

Over her stood Naj, a small smile flickering on his face as he knelt to touch the blood seeping from her mouth.

He’d need a tie back to this world, something to help him break back through the illusion. There wasn’t much strong enough here to help Naj keep his sense of self, but he’d rather take that risk than a misaligned spell with no name.

A familiar aura had appeared at his back as he’d been lost in studying the illusion. He’d ignored it until now, but as he pulled himself back into the space beyond the empty, he spoke to Kain without looking up.

I’m going to need a tether.”

Kain closed his eyes against the sight, willing his heart to slow. Something wasn’t right here. Other than the obvious, what he was seeing wasn’t right. This was too obvious, too…

Too unbelievable.

The moment he thought it, he felt the shift. He heard Naj’s voice and opened his eyes to find the serpent standing at the edge of an empty stage. His expression was hard and he was staring at the stage as if there were something there that he would see if he only stared hard enough.

Kain could feel it too, something was pushing an illusion at them.

A tether – where’s Nica?”

He had a feeling he already knew the answer, but he didn’t understand how or what was happening within the empty stage.

Naj snapped in frustration. “Questions later. Just hold this.” He lashed a strand of power in Kain’s direction and dove beneath the icy waters of power swirling in his mind.

Azriel watched the pair of men talking at the edge of the stage, pulling his glove through his bare hand over and over as he thought.

He’d hoped that the larger of the two would have bought into that simple illusion, a fight between them would have given him a little more time with his lovely little hawk.

His green gaze fell to the woman at his feet and he smiled affectionately. Not that he wasn’t enjoying every moment they were currently getting to spend together. Something about the way his shadows crawled through her skin… Her eyes were wide, and his shadows gathered there to make them completely black. He liked that better than the golden hazel her eyes had held before. This made her look… Well, like something of his.

He knelt, running a bare hand over her heart, tracing a symbol there with the shadows that flowed freely between his skin and hers. Oh, but she was a fierce one. Even trapped in her own mind, playing with a mere shadow of himself… She was delicious. Her fear tremulous and hard won, trickling down the tether that currently bound them together.

Some people wept fear so freely it was almost cloying. This one… She didn’t fear for herself – or at least, she hadn’t at first. No, her fear was something unto a delicacy.

He hummed softly as his shadow found a particularly good sore spot to press. He could hear her mental shriek as she finally gave in… His eyes closed, savoring it.

A push against his barrier interrupted and he stood with a sigh. All good things must come to an end, but she’d served her purpose… And there was no telling how long it would take them to break his hold with how many layers of shadow he’d cocooned her mind in.

And Devin would know he’d been here, which had been his intent all along.

With a last smile at the hawk whose pale skin now writhed with his darkness, he vanished, leaving only his calling card behind.

Air! Need air! Can’t breathe! Can’t move! Fear! TerrorterrorterrrorpanicAIR!!!

Naj staggered until the assault when the barrier abruptly fell. He hadn’t broken it, it has simply vanished. The false emptiness of the stage was immediately surging with feeling, a suffocating wash of sensation.

But, even so, it was… muted. Naj could still think past it, which meant it was only an echo, the lingering ghost of a moment past. Not too long passed, but as Naj sucked in careful breaths of air to chase the panic away, he realized the feeling was already shifting.

The emotion felt oily, slick, and it left an ugly film across his aura. Mentally, he tried to slough it off, but it only coagulated into a thicker sludge. Naj pushed against it, and it thickened still, so he let it go, and went serpent still, listening.

Nica’s screams rang out, but with that same echoey quality as the panic from before. There were too many of them, layered back on themselves again and again, and laced with grim, stony silence, a determination not to scream, not to give in—it was maddening. Naj willed himself not to hear, closed his eyes even as spectral images began to form around him, and dove deeper.

A growl trickled from Kain as the power hit him, but he held it, rooting it to only a part of his aura. They were going to have a talk after this though.

Thin white bands appeared on his wrists and Kain took a deep breath, forming a fist with one hand.

There was a soft pop as the illusion broke, Nica and Naj coming visible. It mirrored what he’d seen before, but this Naj was more concerned, and Nica…

It caught his breath in his throat. Her tanned skin was pale and black lines flowed along it. Her eyes were wide and dark, for a moment he’d thought the sockets empty.

What bothered him most though, was the faint echo of her mind, buried somewhere within her. She was in pain and afraid.

Nica’s eyes blinked open slowly, wincing as she registered tight pain in her arms. When her vision came back into focus, she realized she was in the main room of the club. She stood on stage… Except stood wasn’t the right word. Her feet barely touched the floor enough for her toes to taker her weight. Her arms were bound above her head, the rope vanishing up to where the rafters should be. Here there was nothing but darkness and she suddenly remembered Az.

Her gaze flickered around the room, her body twisting on the rope where her feet barely met the ground. Her senses strained, trying to figure out what had happened after he touched her, all she remembered was the cool chill of his touch, an ice that burned, and a strange slithering sensation on her skin… Into her skin.

This wasn’t really the club, there were minor differences, like the lack of ceiling and walls. The bar was there, but there was only one table with a single chair before the stage.

The biggest difference was that here, the room was deafeningly silent. There was nothing to listen for, no matter how hard she strained – no thrum of electricity, no whisper of insect activity, even her own breathing, which should be fast and harsh from fighting back the panic, was lacking.

When Az suddenly stepped into her line of vision, she jerked back, crying out silently as the rope pulled her back into position before him.

He smiled. In other circumstances, he would be considered a beautiful man. Black, stylish cut hair and green eyes that glittered with mirth, full lips… He was still dressed to the nines as when she had last seen him. As she watched, he crossed the room to the table and chair, setting down a small briefcase she had somehow missed.

When he turned to regard her, she was glad for the silence, at least she would be spared something in all of this. Then he parted his lips and spoke. His voice drifted across the room and slid against her skin with its softness. “I trust you understand what’s happening.”

She shivered and pulled back involuntarily. The quiet nature of his voice gave it an intimacy that caused her more pain than a slap would have. It was melodic, pleasant… And so contrary to what she knew was going to happen.

As Az continued to speak in that haunting tone, he began to undress. First his gloves, then his coat and tie, before beginning to unbutton his shirt. “This isn’t personal, little bird. For what it’s worth, I actually do hope you survive this. It will make it… That much more satisfying to me if you do. I hate it when my pets give in too easily.” He gave her body a thorough glance over and she realized that she was completely bare to his view. “Of course, I recognize that you’re already weakened, which curbs what I can do… But I promise we’ll still have some fun.” As he reached the last of his buttons, he removed the shirt, but nothing else.

Any relief she might have felt at him not continuing to undress faded rapidly as he unclicked the latch on his briefcase and brought his first tool to the light.

Naj slammed back into his skull, panting from the memory. Illusion? It had to be. Nica hadn’t been separated from them for that long… But demonkin weren’t bound by the mundane laws of the mortal plane. Though he shuddered to think it, Nica could have lived a thousand lifetimes by now, locked in the prison of her mind.

He knew none of this was real, but it was a fine point to mince. Bodies healed much faster than the mind, and the mental damage being inflicted was very, very real. In his experience, it was actually harder to heal memories that your body told you never happened, to the point that the mind would inflict phantom pains to realign the boy with its perceptions. No, physically real or not, Nica was being tortured, and Naj had to break it. Without the protection of frail flesh, the mind could be tormented for far, far longer.

He closed his eyes and took a deep, centering breath, drawing in on himself, shutting out illusory distractions. Sharing Nica’s mental landscape wouldn’t help him free her of it. There would be no convenient clue, no shining weak point to attack—her prison would soundly secure, and any hope offered therein would be false, only meant to tease.

In the inky stillness of his soul, there was ice, and he would use it. He touched the pure power within him, and realized it was a dull echo of what had been with his master provided the true connection to Il’Dao. Naj was a serpent, a cobra even, and the heart of his soul was fire. But in this place that he went to for strength, there was still the channel that housed the power as it passed through him. Ghosts of it remained, like a song hangs in the air long after the dancers have fallen into repose.

It was enough. He could use it.

Chapter 14, part 1

In which a message is sent.

Kain’s eyes followed the serpent’s movements as he kept his low conversation going with Nica. It was nothing important, mostly her trying to fill the air between them with trivial things such as needing to call the tailor. He knew there was something she wanted to talk to him about, but didn’t want to speak of with an audience. Her slowing footsteps gave her away.

Kain, however, was more interested in the serpent in front of him. He wanted to do a little more poking around before his worry got the better of him. It wouldn’t be prudent to start a conversation and give away too much of his own hand.

A twinge against his aura made him frown slightly and he glanced back at the warded door to the upstairs. He turned his gaze back towards Naj, thoughts spinning on themselves.

Feeling Nica’s confusion begin at his side, he glanced at Nica’s bare arms, forcing a small frown. “Didn’t you have an over shirt on when you came upstairs?”

Nica paused, blinking a few times in rapid succession as her thoughts suddenly changed direction. “I did… Probably left it by the stage.”

“Ah, well, I can run back and get that for you if you like.” Kain kept his voice bland, but he watched her eyes narrow. She wasn’t buying it for a moment.

“No, it’s fine. I’ll grab it.” With a small, thoughtful frown, she turned and headed back up the stairs.

Naj stiffened at the snagging of the ward, hoping his overflowing aura wasn’t the cause. He’d honestly never thought anything wrong with the practice of carrying elemental power in his aura, but after today…

No, it wasn’t him. Something… bigger that he was was at work here. He glanced behind, eyes finding Kain’s in the dark. Only Kain’s. Nica was gone. Naj stretched out his awareness as much as he dared. Nica’s energy was muted again—or had it never actually recovered? He’d felt the ki’n of the nest swarm around her during the show, but had it been unable to stick to her for some reason?

Could that reason have anything to do with her eijye?

Her eijye, who was conveniently blocking the path back upstairs. Who was not so subtly herding them all downstairs. Who had given him and Nica who-knew-what concoctions not once but twice in the past few hours, and Naj was only now beginning to question that? Stupid stupid stupid.

Marie pulled at his arm, stopping when he had. Naj didn’t even spare her look, eye fixed on Kain.

Kain stopped in the middle of the stairwell, turning from Nica’s vanishing back to Marie and Naj. The pair were looking up at him with curiosity and he smiled warmly with a shrug. “She forgot her shirt, she’ll be down in just a moment.”

Nica was preoccupied with Kain’s abrupt dismissal. She couldn’t tell why he’d wanted to be rid of her, but on the heels of this morning… Her pride would hardly let her stay. He hadn’t been listening to her anyway. Which was probably just as well, it hadn’t been terribly important. She should have just mentally nudged him for a private conversation about Naj, she just hadn’t wanted to risk Naj overhearing her.

Her shirt lay on the far side of the stage where she’d tossed it and her stride carried her most of the way across it before she was suddenly aware she wasn’t alone.

For a split second, she thought that a customer had been lurking after close, or that perhaps the door hadn’t been locked and someone had mistaken the time. All of it impossible, but what she found waiting for her seemed so much more impossible.

Dev had never described Azriel. Not in looks anyway, but the fear that underscored her voice when she mentioned him… There was no one else this could be.

He was dressed in a well-tailored suit and tie, the cut of which framed his lean body perfectly. Darkness was the perfect description for him, from his hair to every aspect of his clothing, including the gloves he tugged on with a smile. Only his pale skin gave any relief to it, and his eyes glittered like ice beneath heavy lashes.

Her mouth ran dry as he took a step forward, smoothing one hand down the front of his jacket. His footsteps were silent as he approached the stage.

Even as Naj realized the danger, it was too late. Nica’s suddenly diminished aura just as suddenly vanished, and he reacted without a thought. With a blast of heavy darkness, Naj rushed the much larger man, shoving his way past to take the stairs back to the main floor.

Kain’s attention was on the ward behind him and he was unprepared for the wall of power that hit him. Stupid to be caught off guard, but for all the Dai were known for, obvious and blatant attacks weren’t among them. There was a gasp from Marie behind him and Kain took the stairs three at a time to catch up to the serpent.

Azriel glanced down at her shirt as he passed it, then carefully ascended each of the three steps. Her chin lifted as he made an obvious show of looking her up and down.

You must be… Nica.” His voice was soft and sultry, but there was something within it that made her heartbeat quicken. Nothing so obvious she could put her finger on, but she suddenly understood Dev’s fear. This was a man that logic and reasoning could not sway. Dev had once said he was insane and with just that innocent sentence, Nica believed her.

He continued as if she’d answered him, tilting his head slightly as his eyes drifted down again. “A hawk… With feathers like blood and a heart that falls as quickly as your animal form does.” His lips quirked. “Oh, perhaps that’s a falcon. Forgive me, feathers are all the same to me sometimes.”

Swallowing back the knot of fear, she ignored him. Ignored the twisting of her stomach and urge to run. There would be no outrunning him. And screaming would only bring the other dancers. There was nothing she could do but hope to distract him enough to spare them. Dev had described him as easily distracted, flighty even.

What do you want, Azriel?” Her voice was breathier than she liked, but her voice carried across the stage.

The demon’s eyes were suddenly on hers and Nica found herself wishing he’d go back to studying her body. His smile changed, the wicked edge to it turning her stomach.

I suppose it’s only fair that you know my name if I know yours.” Her eyes widened when he vanished. “I’ve always found names fascinating,” His voice purred into her ear and she fought not to move, “such intimate things when you think about it. A string of letters, syllables, to define and shape a person, so that I can hold all you are on just my tongue alone.”

The sound that followed forced her eyes closed. She would not run, she would not scream. It took all her willpower simply to stay still. She hoped she was strong enough to do the same if he actually touched her.


The stage was empty.

It hadn’t been a moment ago. Naj knew he’d seen Nica standing and talking with… well, with something. His mind had slid around the shape, knowing something was there but unable to gather any details about it. It was almost as if the presence hadn’t made a decision one way or another about how present it actually wanted to be.

Then Nica had named it, and disappeared as well.


Naj knew the stage wasn’t empty. There was too much emptiness for it to be anything but an illusion. He’d felt the lingering ki’n that had seeped into the boards, smelled the combined perfume of so many different bodies, tasted the many hours of practice and performance that hung heavy in the space. All of that had vanished with Nica.

Which told Naj both she and the demon were still there.

What it didn’t tell him was if “Azriel” was a strong enough name to bind any spellwork to the creature. Naj had a lifetime of options at his fingertips, but nearly all of them were too strong to risk without knowing for a fact that they would effect his intended target and only his target. Likely as not, his familiarity with Nica would override the tenuous connection “Azriel” would make with the demon, and he’d blast his eija to oblivion—or worse. No, he couldn’t risk most of his options in this current situation.

But that didn’t mean he was helpless, either.

I came to deliver a message to Devin.” Nica’s eyes opened a touch too wide to find Az standing across the stage again, amusement clear in his eyes.

A message.” It wasn’t a question. She was going to be sick.

He twirled a gloved hand in the air, turning on a heel to gaze out at the rest of the club. Her heart was pounding hard enough that it skipped a beat and she watched his head twitch as if he’d heard it.

I prefer hawks to parrots.” His hands slowly crossed behind his back, clasping to show pale skin between cuff and glove. A strange shadow drew her attention there, but it flickered away before she could make sense of it.

He was teasing her and her pride couldn’t even find the strength to be angry. Her thoughts kept turning back to the nest below her, where her dancers would be laughing and jostling to find places in the Great Room for movie time. She prayed that Fate would be kind and spare them, let her be the only sacrifice needed tonight.

A hand wrapped around her throat, stealing all her air between one breath and the next. The leather pinched her skin and her eyes widened…

To find Azriel standing several feet away, watching her with a frown. One hand was fisted at his side, but relaxed the moment she glanced at it. Her own hand twitched with the urge to touch her neck, sore from a coming bruise. There was a faint scent of dust and a strange musk on the air. If it weren’t for that, she’d wonder if she’d imagined it.

I think you’ll be a suitable messenger, don’t you?” His tone was oddly somber, undertones she couldn’t begin to understand threading beneath it.

It took her two tries to say it, but she finally rasped, “Yes.”

His expression immediately brightened, then a nasty smile began to grow. “I was hoping you would say that.”

Her world went dark, his words fading into the background, but she thought she heard him add, “We’re going to have so much fun together.”

Interlude: Dreams in the Desert, part 4

Llorinda’s fingers on the laces at his hips tickled. He wanted to bat her away, but he understood her need to make sure everything looked just so. He’d asked her to do it, out of the same fastidious need. And because she was the only female who’s eye he trusted that he actually could ask such things of.

“You’ll be fine, Meron,” she said lightly, eyes still on her work.

He wanted to scowl or give some curt reply, but the annoyance in his aura, and the anxiety underneath, were clear enough. Though he held his aura more closely than his neighbors—especially after visiting the h’somu in the mountains—skin to skin contact would tell her almost his every thought. It didn’t help that she was one of his oldest friends.

Or rather, it did help. Llorinda’s presence, her support by extension, did much to soothe his frazzled nerves. She didn’t say, “I know,” didn’t give the laces a firmer tug than necessary to drive the point home. She just quietly went about her work, sitting back on her heels occasionally to judge their evenness, and let him stew in his own dread.

It’s just a dance, he told himself. Just one stupid little dance you’ve practiced a hundred times. With his nerves this ramped up, he was just as likely to call the fire on accident as with the ceremonial dance. Either way, the central fire would be lit for the year, and his people’s prosperity would be assured.

The only real question was whether or not his dignity would survive the winter.

“Up or down?”

He started from his thoughts at Llorinda’s question, and stared stupidly down at her until she asked again.

“U-up, of course,” he said.

She nodded and began to lace the pants just under his knees. Her lack of comment prompted him to continue. “It’s traditional, isn’t it? Cuffs are worn high for any fire dances.”

Llorinda nodded again, holding one end of the cord in her teeth as she worked. Once free of the burden she answered. “I know how to dress a leh’shcarmn for a ki’ramn. I was asking you how you’d prefer to be dressed.”

He paused and mulled over her words, knowing she’d made the distinction for a reason. Was it belittling his skills, calling his footwork into question? If he wore them down, his calves wouldn’t be painted with the gold markings that would glint in the firelight, showing off the steps.

No, that wasn’t it. Llorinda would tease him about just about anything, but not things of real importance. He was truly nervous about this, and she would know it, and wouldn’t undermine his confidence.

So what was she asking? She hadn’t stopped lacing the cuff up around his knee, like he’d asked, so why even say anything? Would she be willing to take them back down if he changed his mind? He wouldn’t want to make her redo the all over again—

And it wouldn’t be like her to waste the effort, if she thought he really might. So she knew he wanted them up, but wanted him to think about why.

Was he wearing them this way, simply because of tradition? What was he trying to prove? Yes, the night was about proving their reijye was a capable areta
<!– –>

<!–Areta? Which word do I really want there? –>

, able to call the magic of his birthright and fit to lead them. But most of them had seen him call fire at one time or another before, albeit informally. So what was this evening really about?

How would you prefer to be dressed?

She was asking him to present his real face to the people, he realized. His friend was challenging him to be more than icon and leader to the people he lived and loved with. To stop holding himself back, to truly dance when he called the fire.

But could he do it? Could he let his people in, let them see the pain that hovered just behind his smile, darted in the shadows at the corners of his eyes, sighed out with his every laugh and joke?

“I prefer them laced down.”

“I know.”

Still she laced them above the knee, moving on to fix the next cuff.

“Your cakes taste like dirt.”

<!–Ch 15, drinking tinctures –>

Raith made a face as Llorinda passed him a bun, frosted in honey paste. That self-pleased smile touched at the edge of her lips, and he always wondered what she was thinking when she wore that look. It couldn’t be pride in her work. Raith was right. They did taste like dirt.

Marl stumbled forward, helped along by Larai’s knee, and blushed furiously. Llorinda smiled prettily, batting her eyes and turning a little rosy herself. He wondered when the two of them were finally going to get together. Marl had fancied her all growing up, and the feeling only seemed to be deepening.

“G-good morning, Miss Llorinda.”

The other baker apprentices surfaced in a flurry of giggles, trying to look busy setting out the morning’s ware, but they were almost as gossipy as dancers. One stuck her thumb right in the middle of a fruit tart. She’d been too busy watching their group to notice.

He was never sure what drew their attention. The infamous Four Winds, his band of closest friends, or the strangely reserved romance between Marl and Llorinda. Both sights were sure to yield excellent gossip.

Larai mimicked Marl’s greeting in a high falsetto, tossing his head and looking for all the world like the stork he was nicknamed for. He wanted to throw a fish at him and see if he’d catch it with his teeth or his face.

Raith elbowed him, coming to Marl’s defense. “Manners are just as important to have as to hear,” he chided him, pushing him away from Marl and Llorinda. Larai stammered, “But you just said they taste like dirt!”, struggling to get around Raith’s corralling.

“That I did, and they do, but there’s no call to make fun of them. Good morning, Miss Llorinda.” He never looked back as he literally pushed Bird to another stall.

He walked away himself, shaking his head. He heard Marl behind him declaring that he loved Llorinda’s baking, and thought this year’s h’Cheres cakes would be the best year, echoed by another twitting of giggles from the other bakers.

He just smiled and ate his breakfast, chewing on the grit.

<!–Ch 15, drawing during the show –>

A hot wind blew across the desert, but it was a gentle warmth compared to the blaze from before. It carried the smell of sun and spices, a bustling marketplace somewhere far, far away. The heat wrapped around Seth, chasing away the chill that been trying to settle on him after the campfire had gone out.

For the first time since falling asleep, the creases in Seth’s forehead eased. He didn’t quite smile, but he was finally resting easily.

Previous: Chapter 12, part 3 Next: Chapter 13, part 1

Interlude: Dreams in the Desert, part 3

There was always fire burning in the big pit in the middle of the rei’sumae, no matter how hot it was outside. Even if it was a simple bed of coals, buried under a fine layer of ash, the fire was never allowed to completely burn out.

He sat before the pit, little face screwed up in concentration. He could feel the fire beneath the ashes, but he had no idea how to call it. It was fire. It didn’t listen. It didn’t come bounding gleefully into the room when you whistled, didn’t alight on an arm held out to the sky, didn’t beg for fish scraps when it followed you to the river. It was fire.

And yet, his mother said this was his lesson for the day. Call the fire. She sat at the far end of the long room, calmly working at her loom, seeming to ignore him. He knew better—den’Shelena saw everything. Like the great eye of Dareiya herself, mother’s namesake, the moon saw day and night alike, in darkness and light. Nothing was hidden from her.

But the fire remained hidden from him. He wanted to cry. Wanted to yell at the fire, to kick and rage and command it to rise, as he’d learned to command his scales. Was that the trick to it? Did he need to touch his serpent self?

Tentatively, he let a ripple of pale scales slide over his hand. His mother coughed, and he jerked back, tucking his hand guiltily behind him. But she kept weaving, picking up a shuttle of crimson thread, and he turned back to the fire. His hand was sheathed in red scales now, and when his mother remained silent, he reached out and brushed the ashes from the coals.

Mother had taught him to be very, very careful of his manners.

All growing up, hours in the long house had been spent practicing greetings and gestures, the languages of their neighbors, along with the dances and magics and stories of their own people. He felt confident he could handle anything, even with his adult’s wrappings still unfinished on his mother’s loom. Surely it was long enough by now?

But even without the ceremonial garment, his parents had agreed that he should travel with his father’s group to the h’somu Danhkkhna. It was probably better this way, actually, because dressed in the wrappings of a child, his mistakes could be more easily forgiven—Oh yes, overhearing that little bit of conversation had done wonders for his meditation, practicing to clamp his aura down tight so as not to offend their avian neighbors with his emotions.

And what of their offense to him, hmm? Why should he have to pretend to be something he was not, cut away a part of him so precious, so as not to be seen as improper? What exactly was proper about pretending not to be moved by the world around him? Mother said it would be a different story if they were coming to the longhouse—but of course, that would never happen. If a leh’Danhkkhna’ra came here, it would be a serpent member of their ranks. And even that was unlikely—why visit a small village on the borders of leshkan and lefu holdings, instead of visiting their respective strongholds?

And yet lah’Seth
<!– –>

<!–Lah’Seth or ei’Seth? H’Seth? Fuck me–>

<!– –>

was expected to make the journey to the h’somu. And his son was expected to come with him.

But we don’t even want to be a kingdom, he’d complained to this mother. Why do we have to act like one?

Because we want the right not to be a kingdom, she’d answered, and left the longhouse without another word.

She wouldn’t return for another three days. And by then, he was finally emptied of everything.

Hannah was a piece of the sunlight itself.

Her mother, h’eija of the priesthood was even more radiant, shining with a light that came from within, but Hannah was still young enough that she merely glowed with power, rather than blazed.

Her golden wings had been the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.

Standing behind her mother’s seat, an intricately carved stool with no back that let her wings spread wide behind her, Hannah was almost lost in the golden haze. She held herself so perfectly straight and still, he had wondered if she were part of the carvings. Though, honestly, he’d wondered that about everyone in the room. They could be standing in audience before an assembly of statues, cold jewels and precious metals wrought into the image of living beings, but completely devoid of life.

Then Hannah had shifted, ever so slightly, to get a better look at their party.

He wouldn’t have noticed it, except for the small flash of light as her mother’s blaze reflected off a razor-edged feather in Hannah’s wing. He told her this as they lunched on the balcony, after the formal introductions were over. She’d been dying to know what had draw his attention to her, over all the glittering throng of the priesthood. She’d stood perfectly patient throughout the rest of the audience, and even kept up the image of polite but detached interest through most of lunch. But finally, her curiosity got the better of her, and it had colored her aura with the slightest of tint. In a serpent, it would have gone completely unnoticed. But it was the first inkling of emotion he’d gotten off of any of these cold, beautiful people, and he’d pounced on it without a thought.

He’d apologized profusely, but that slip had allowed Hannah to finally breathe, and for the rest of the afternoon, they’d talked quietly and still politely about each others peoples, but he had finally felt like he was talking to another living person, and it had done much to put him at ease.

He thought of the little golden girl for weeks afterwards, a million questions he’d wished he’d been brave enough ask niggling at him in the night. Don’t you get lonely, locked in your own skin like that? What’s it like, being groomed to rule but not knowing for a certainty that it will be your duty? How do you work so closely with serpents and not laugh or cry or yell like they do? Why had our parents talked of allegiances, and fealties, and duties?

Are we going to be enemies some day?

<!– Ch 14, why must it be unraveled? –>

Bird passed him another stone, and he hurled it violently into the river. It didn’t skip lightly, as all of Bird’s had, and he didn’t care. He hadn’t wanted to play this stupid game in the first place. Bird sighed and heaved to his feet, popping his back with a stretch.

“Alright, rei’shkan, let’s have it. You’ve taken enough of your rage out on the river. Time to talk.”

He scowled and thought about throwing himself in the river, but he knew Bird would never let him hear the end of it if he had to half-drown himself saving his best friend.

“I don’t want any of it, Bird. You know that.”


That man had no sympathy. And he had to admit, Bird was fully a man now. Sometime over the summer, when he had been in the mountains, his friend had grown up without him. Why he had had to go and Bird had been allowed to stay, he didn’t understand. Bird’s second form actually bore the mark of the king cobra. Who cared that he himself was technically closer to the royal line? Who cared about royalty this far out into the woods anyways? The fact that Bird still called him simply rei’shkan, cobra, was probably the only reason he hadn’t slipped his guard and cousin and went off to brood on his own. reijye Xane Kismeron lah’Seth’ra felt less like an actual name than it ever had, and more and more like the ropes he knew it to be. Whether harness or noose, he hadn’t yet decided.

Bird poked him in the back with the butt of his spear, earning his lanky cousin a growl. Bird only met it with a snort.

“Brooding’s done now, unless you want to go to be the h’somu and join the priesthood. I’m sure they could use another savage to watch over their little hatchlings.”

With the fluid grace and alarming speed of his animal form, he sprang from the ground and punched Bird firmly in the face.

“Don’t talk about Hannah!”

Bird looked up the dirt, crooked grin on his face, blood trickling down his chin.

“Finally, he speaks.”

He didn’t answer, fine tremors running through his limbs. If he spoke now, he would burn his cousin alive. Or pound his head into the dirt until his brains spilled out. Or both. His cobra temper had finally had enough.

Bird pushed himself into a sitting position, but otherwise didn’t move. He wouldn’t be the one to start this fight. Any more than he’d already done with his words.

“If she’s that important to you, do something about it.”

Apparently, Bird didn’t feel he’d said his piece yet. It was all he could do to calm his own anger, so he remained silent. Bird took that for an invitation to continue.

“You’re of royal blood, lah’Seth’ra. It may not count for much among our fathers, but the h’somu thought enough of it to invite you over me. You’re eligible for the priesthood, the real priesthood, and not just some glorified baby sitting job.” After a slight pause to taste the air, he added, “You could work together, as equals. H’il’li.”

Finally, he was calmed enough to speak.

“You know I can’t, Bird. I don’t have a twin, like my father. The line is completely dependent on me. My threads haven’t been on Fate’s shuttle for a long time. I’m already locked by warp and weft. And what has been woven can’t be unthreaded without tearing apart all else, the good and the bad.”

And why must they be unraveled?” Bird said immediately, giving him no quarter. “It is you that hold to them, not the other way around. Let them go, and dance.”

It was so easy for his cousin. Bird would never be expected to lead, never be called on to sit on any serpent throne—the real one in Obsidian Castle or the just as heavy but never acknowledged one of his father’s people. Bird was the person who understood him the most, and even he couldn’t grasp the impossibility of his suggestion, his devil-may-care dare to dance freely. He couldn’t. He could not, so that his people could have the choice to. He gave the freedom they held so very dear, so that at least someone could dance. So that they could take that freedom for granted.

Suddenly, he was very, very angry. His rage flickered across his skin, lines of fire racing up and down his bare limbs and middle, his face. The fire burned all along his body, because it had no where else to go. He couldn’t direct it outward, at any effigy of his imprisonment. He couldn’t flame and rage at the cage that held him. So he burned, brighter and brighter like a falling star, spending its all in one last desperate dive to the earth.

When he’d burned himself out, Bird covered him with a blanket against the growing chill of the night, and climbed a tree to keep watch over their camp.

The fire raged across the white desert, re-charring trees that had already stood empty and black. Only the large dark rock by the lake, and the man sleeping in the hollow of it’s lee, remained untouched. The little campfire at Seth’s side went out, starved for oxygen as the larger inferno blazed on, razing the already desolate landscape.

Seth’s lips dried and cracked in the heat, and whatever other words he’d been about to say died. What tenuous grasp on wakefulness he’d had was stolen away, as the fire stole his breath, and he collapsed again into unconsciousness.

Previous: Chapter 11, part 2 Next: Chapter 12, part 1

Interlude: Dreams in the Desert part 2

Why were the raptors always so agitated?

<!–Ch 13 tinctures–>

Or, more importantly, why were they the ones sent to tend the ill? He was certain he’d fare much better with quiet, a serpent nursemaid, and the chance to simply sleep.

But rough arms were around him, forcing him to sit up and drink. The herbs were suspended in what felt like raw power, and he sputtered and gagged on the strength of the spirit.

The falcon swore at him, called him an ignorant hatchling as she rushed to clean the mess from her skin. What could they possibly fear from touching something they expected him to drink? But it was true, under all the prickly agitation and the hot anger, there was a thread of fear.

He took what little energy he had and wrapped the remains of the potion in a venom crystal. He spat the little pearly lump out onto the bed and covered it with his hand.

<!–Golden wings? –>

He gritted his teeth in an attempt to stifle his growing agitation as Sybil calmly batted his spell away, again. They’d been at it for what felt like days, and the only thing he’d set on fire was the room around him. The smothering heat surely was not helping his mood.

But they could not leave until burned away the spelled rope that bound her, proving him an acceptable student and her a capable teacher.

“It’s still lacking substance, naja. Just get angry already and try to burn me, will you? I assure you, your little fireballs will have no effect on me.”

The golden hawk met his gaze with an almost bored nonchalance, but he could tell she was losing her patience. Had she never worked with serpent-kin before? If so, she was failing this test as surely as he. Her emotions were plastered across her aura, digging and niggling at him every time he tried to hold a thought. She was angry, aggravated, impatient, haughty—everything he’d come to expect from raptor-kin. But laying over it all like a slick mildew was fear. He never seen that in a raptor’s aura. Never. It was the first thing they learned to hide as children, and the last thing they’d ever admit to feeling. How precarious was her position that the clearly high-born hawk hen was all but sweating her fear?

It wasn’t him—most of the raptors had hardly given him any notice when he’d traveled with his father to the h’somu of the D’ahnkkhna priesthood to establish peaceful intent. Only the serpent-kin of the mixed group would speak to them, after the initial presentation, and Seth was certain it was only their constant guard that had granted them entrance to towering mountain stronghold at all. No, none of the feathered folk he’d encountered then or now had paid him any mind—so what was Sybil afraid of?

He couldn’t attack her, not like this. He couldn’t strike at anyone resonating so strongly with fear. With a tired sigh, he pushed himself up from the cross-legged position he’d been instructed to sit in and climbed down from his raised dais. As he approached hers, the hawk froze, not even a hissed breath marring her perfect stillness.

“Wh-what are you doing?”

Seth stilled, not the motionless terror that she was caught in, but the quiet emptiness that all serpents could assume. He counted heartbeats, one, two, three, until taking another step forward. Her wrists surged against the bonds pinning her to the altar, eyes growing to show whites all the way around, but still she did not breathe. Was she drawing power?

Still, Seth could not raise a hand against her, even if she claimed it was the only route to free them both. He could not, and would not do it, so instead of sending another ungrounded surge of flame to lick uselessly at the walls, he’d resolved to try something different.

“Don’t touch me!”

The desperate shriek that pierced the silence send prickles racing along Seth’s skin to tighten in painful gooseflesh. She was terrified, and not even trying to hide it any longer as she writhed against the bonds she knew she could not break. Her breath returned to her in ragged, rapid gasps, and her wild eyes now squeezed tightly shut against the coming inevitability.

What inevitability? What does she know that I do not?

He drew a long breath, willing it to be steady and strong against the bitter tang of her panic. He took another,and another, trying to drain the room of her desperation, trying to impose his calm over it, trying to find balance in his soul against the terrified pounding of her heart.

“What are you so afraid of?”

It was a question never asked of any avian, and it was barely asked now. Seth could not bring his voice to anything louder than the brush of a whisper, but her eyes flew open and locked on him just the same. They stared at each other for a moment, his confusion and her fear both wore open and naked between them, then her words came in a babbling rush as the dam of her resolve broke.

“Don’t you know what they want to do with us? Don’t you know why we’re here? Monsters, they’re all monsters, and they want to make more of the same. What they want—it’s madness, nothing but madness! They’ll take us back to the burning times, to those savage wars—there won’t be a single feather or scale left unsigned—they can’t be allowed to do this!”

Her babbling broke off into a cascade of prayer, a rush of words in the old tongue that Seth could barely understand. They’d been forbidden to speak it outside of a set circle, didn’t she know that, for fear the power they could accidentally call. But the words of flight and grace and mercy she summoned never came, despite the desperation in her pleas. The only answer was a falling of darkness complete, the sound of steel on stone, and the wet gurgle as her prayer broke off and winged its way to the heavens.

Music drifted over the white sand, a tinkling of sound as faint and distant as the starlight. It came on a small wind, gentle and warm as a mother’s kiss. Seth’s hair ruffled in the breeze, air cooling the sweat on his brow. The tension in his face eased, and the campfire beside him quieted to a bed of banked coals.

Previous: Chapter 11, part 2 Next: Chapter 12, part 1