The dials rolled slowly under Starkov’s fingers, alternating static and dead air. It’d been two weeks with no contact. Shut away in their dimly-lit listening post, reports from HQ were the only indication that the outside world still existed at all. Manning his station had become reflexive: turn two degrees; stop; two degrees; static; pause; nothing; continue two degrees. Day after day, it’d become easy to convince himself that the enemy might be gone for good, but he kept his ear to the air. There was no telling when a signal might pop up again.
“Don’t go,” she said quietly, and the rain pounded away the tears, leaving trails of it’s own.
He took her face in his hands and kissed her softly, a bittersweet sensation prickling where his lips brushed the corner of her own. The best and worst kiss she had ever been given. Then he turned and walked away, and she could do nothing but stand in the puddles and watch his back fade into the storm.
These sheets are never warm enough.
They long for your caress
to spark that fire
that burns without light.
Note: This is a cleaned up/edited “flash fiction” version of a dream. Effort has been made to stay as true to the dream itself as possible.
Just when I thought we would never be done with walking, the undergrowth cleared, and there, finally, terrifying, was the beast. It stood watching us as if it had been waiting all along for our arrival. Its red aura painted a wicked, pulsing light on the trees around it, their bark seeming to ripple and wither away in its glow.
My body quivered with the instinct to flee. Jaren, unnoticing, stood ready to fight. But still the beast waited. I reached out and shook Jaren’s arm to get his attention. I don’t remember what I meant to say, but the words that came out were, “I’m going to run.” He turned then, shock raising his eyebrows, but he didn’t say anything.
“My powers won’t work here.” I held out my hands, a combined gesture of display and helplessness. The marks on my palms were already fading. Jaren saw and nodded, his face impenetrable once again. But for the first time since I’d known him, I thought I saw fear in his eyes.
I turned to go, the flight instinct creeping back in, but hesitated. I looked back to see Jaren watching me. His armored form eclipsed the waiting beast, a bloody corona casting his features into shadow. Feeling something more needed to be said, but not sure what, instead I closed the gap between us, and took hold of his collar, hauling him down into a kiss.
I had thought about what it might be like before, though in such girlish fantasies, it had always been him coming to me, my mouth yielding under his. I’m not quite sure exactly what I expected, but found myself more than pleasantly surprised when there was no hesitation in him. As our lips met, his kiss was soft and urgent — and over much too quickly. As he broke away, I placed both palms against the cool surface of his breastplate, pouring the remnants of my power into him.
He took my hands and squeezed them gently, and I could see the fear had melted from his face. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wished that it might be because of more than my magic, and that I might see him again to find out.
But Jaren dropped my hands and turned toward the beast again. The last thing he said was, “I will find you. Run.”
I’ve never been accused of being a great man, so I might as well recount the adventures of one who was. Good thing, I suppose; he’d never do it himself. He was never that kind of person. He called himself Bowman Vance, and he was probably the only real friend I’ve ever had. My name is Noah. I was just a boy when I knew him, barely fourteen, but the night he ran, I followed him. When he discovered me hours later, he tried to send me home, even tried to scare me away. It nearly worked too. But I had seen what they’d done to him. I knew their secret. I couldn’t go back any more than he could.
The night we left Master Kota’s estate was a hectic one. Less than an hour prior to our leaving, the entire familial guard had made a failed attempt to overthrow the Kota line. Melias Quartain, the Sergeant of the Guard, had claimed proof that Master Kota was a corrupt noble, and that he was stealing from the town. Of the fifteen guardsmen, only three had been unsure: Bowman, one of his fellow archers, and a young swordsman. They had all grown up in the town of Jujira. Bowman’s own family had served the Kota line for generations.
By no means a stunning beauty, Callas was yet pretty in a that quaint way one might expect to find in the countryside. Her skin was smooth and tanned from a youth spent working and playing under the sun, and her hair, long and wavy, was sun-bleached to the color of harvest-ready wheat. Eyes that had been a muddy brown in her childhood had deepened with the years to a chocolate hue, and were rimmed by thick, dark lashes. Her father would have said she had inherited her mother’s soulful gaze. And if she had also got her father’s aquiline nose and strong square jaw, and his tendancy to purse her slighly-thin lips, who would notice? When she had occasion to smile, it lit up her battle-wearied face, and she glowed with it.
But Callas was certainly a product of her surroundings. Her years spent at war showed in the line of her body, taut and wiry, with a fluid grace and strong arm, and her hands were callused by the sword and plow alike. Under her Chosen’s sash, she walked proud and erect, having finally accepted what she was, and her dark gaze took in all around her with neither reserve nor apology for such sapience in such a young face.
She surged forward from the mob of her fellow soldiers, their hands shrinking back at the cry of feral rage tearing from her throat. And she ran alone toward the moving wall of abysmal black.
The formation behind her stood transfixed in awe at the sight of it, and as she neared the boundaries of the darkness, she raised her sword, and it blazed to life like a comet in her hand. At the first sweeping arch of it, the darkness shrank back, quivering from the flame’s touch like some wretched fog-beast. As Callas advanced into the opening her blade had made, the army behind her caught a glimpse of the armored force concealed within.
I met Death on the way home from work last night. And why not? He was standing on the corner in the same place he always was. I walked right up and asked for a light. Same as always.
I puffed on my cig for a second then asked, “So how’s work been going, man?”
He shrugged almost imperceptibly. “Same old. I’ve been gettin’ around.” He exhaled a spiral of smoke in my direction and leaned on the light post. “Lots of people dying lately.” There was no black hood or scythe, but in the dim glow of the streetlight, you’d almost expect him to look up at you with piercing red eyes. He wasn’t called Death for nothing.
He pulled his handgun out of its holster and fiddled with it a little. I don’t know a thing about weapons; just the sight of them makes me uneasy. I knew I wouldn’t see it coming — the day he got the word to use the damned thing. I flinched as it flashed in the light.
I kind of half-laughed. “Big Man keeping you on your toes, huh? How’s about we go grab a drink? Take a load off?”
That shrug again, and he finished off his cigarette, flicking the butt into the gutter. “The Boss…he knows what you’re doing…He always knows…” I eyed him nervously. It was just a matter of time until the Big Man pulled my number from his rolodex o’ destiny.
He paused to stare at the gun for a second, then quickly tucked it back into the holster. “So how’ve the days been for you? Usin’ ’em wisely, I hope. Well…other than the obvious.” I nodded, shaken. But same as always, he straightened up and started walking. “So, how ’bout that drink?”