The Making of Vy Rill (3)

3)

The taste of her blood was bitter and cool on his tongue, and his jaw clenched.

It was in that moment he knew she was fully aware of what he’d done, and in his eagerness, he played right into her trap.

He made no sound, and she did not stir.

A contest of wills, then.

   The aftertaste was sweet like raw honey, and his spine tingled as the sugar infected his blood.

His stomach roiled, but it was too late.

What did you do to me, Janyris?

 

**************

Her father stood there, mute, dumbfounded that she would walk out on him.

   “Janyris, who will take care of me?”

   “Mother has taken lovers from the Underworld; you have choices, father. Exercise them. I will not stay here tending you in your dotage, I don’t want her crown, and I have my own life to live.”

   Her father’s voice was gruff from grief. “How have you come to be so selfish?”

  “In much the same manner as you came to be impotent: gradually.”

  “Your mother, it seems, was a whore at heart. They are voracious creatures.”

  “Mother enjoys sex; that does not make her a whore. She married you, and had none before you. Whatever perverse delights you introduced to her, she took a liking, and has now chosen to indulge.”

  He hung his head, remembering those long, lust-filled nights when his own voraciousness had exhausted them both.

“Go then, and return not. I will die alone.”

   She gave him a pitying look, reinforcing his.

   “And you will die unloved; that’s what truly sad.”

   She closed the door on him, and jumped as an axe blade split the door, heard him roaring damnation at her, the power of his words seeking to bind around her soul, and she felt them hit, and soak in. Her heart twisted in her chest, and doubling over, she retched,

   Staggering out into the sun filled day, wiping her mouth on the sleeve of her gown, struggling to breathe, she began running, her father’s curse on her life pursuing her, running effortlessly alongside, filling her ears with mocking wrath.

  

**************

“Is that what brought our paths together, dear Janyris: I in you, and you in me, in a way far more intimate than physical love?

“We hold each other’s strings now, and the better puppet master will win this fight.”

He left.

What a tawdry, common life. No wonder she fled.”

   He returned to his own tower, the effects of her blood still at work in him, not quite making him intoxicated, but doing things to him that he remembered distantly feeling as a mortal.

His walk was unsteady, and he was shivering, but he felt flushed with heat.

Rest, I need to rest.

He stumbled, and grabbed a lamppost, sagging, but trying to pull himself up.

In reaching out, he saw his skin was changing, the veins prominent and shades of bruises against his flesh.

The tower was too far away, and the sky was turning pale.

He saw lights begin to come on in windows, for those who had to start early.

If they saw him, if they called the authorities…

With the last of his remaining strength, he saw an alley up ahead, and as his vision blurred, he shuffled past a couple of vagrants already in occupancy.

No one will pay attention to me here, except these vagrants, but I’ve nothing to steal, and they can’t murder me.

  There was cardboard, dirty, wet, and doubtless crawling with things.

The alley, being what it was, and where, reeked of things best not considered.

Covering himself as best he could, the infection took him under, and what it would do, for good or ill, he would not know until he was awake again.

It’s like a virus.

Then it came to him, her new name, partly what she’d done, partly to show ownership of her. It was a term used by the young when something was widespread in their world of technology.

Viral.

   Vy Rill. That will be my name for her, and I will make her embrace it, and me, until fate claims us both.

The illness pulled his eyelids down; darkness took him under to let the infection have its way, and he had one final thought before he surrendered.

I will be a new creation.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.    2015

Night Roads (con’t 2)

We walked back in silence; that is to say, Alazne and I were silent. The thick forest was alive with sounds of the creatures of night, hunting and being hunted, croaking, cricketing, rustling, whooshing, hooting, clicking, buzzing and glimmering.

Alazne knew the way back, with no second guessing. As a tracker and hunter, I was impressed, if a little unnerved. She had advanced skills for someone her age, and I had questions I didn’t want answers to, so I stayed quiet and followed in the wake of light from her lantern.

Walking down the paved path to Amia’s door, my heart began to beat faster, part nervousness, part excitement, and if I had to really analyze it, part fear. It had been years since we were together, and though I had no idea how time had been to her, I knew what it had done to me, and it wasn’t pretty, and it hadn’t been kind.

She sat in the light of a healthy hearth fire, her legs curled under her, her auburn hair gleaming in the firelight. Her evening dress was a sky blue trimmed with dark blue curlicues that ran the length of her sleeves and around her waist.

Fixing her bright green eyes on me, I almost stumbled.

“Haskell, my friend! It is good to see you.”

“Hello, Amia.”

She rose from the chair like a queen about to spit on a peasant’s head, and kissed me lightly on the cheek.

Alazne had made herself disappear; I could tell it was something she had a lot of practice doing.

“Sit, please.” Amia indicated the chair opposite her. I sat, and she poured something into a cup and passed it to me. It was steaming, and smelled like bitten warm plums in high summer.

“The best of Inkara wines.”

“I’ve always liked Inkara.”

“You’ve always had reason to.” She smiled at me, and against my better judgement, I smiled too.

“It’s where we met,” she reminded me.

“How could I forget?”

“If you didn’t forget, why didn’t you come for me?”

“If I’d known you wanted to be found, I would have.”

“You left me, Haskell. I can’t begin to tell you what I needed to do to survive.”

“Do I need to know?”

“You selfish, pigheaded–”
I put the cup on the table next to me, and stood up.

“Where are you going?”

“I’m leaving again. You have no claim on me, Amia, and I’ve none on you. Whatever game you’re playing, I want no part in it. I don’t know how you found me,  I don’t know why you sent a child I don’t know to bring me here, but to invite me here to reprimand me because I’m not a mind reader–”

She stopped, and seemed to collect herself. “I’m sorry, Haskell. Please, sit down.”

“No.”

“Suit yourself,” she said, sitting. “I need your help.”

“You…”

“Yes, Haskell. I need your help. I have no one else to turn to. I made inquiries, and they told me you were traveling here, to my homeland. I left this place, but I had Alazne stay and tend it, and keep away intruders.”

I sat, curiosity getting the better of me; Alazne was slight of build. She looked like a waif that would reach a weight of ninety pounds in a soaking rain.

“Who is she?”

Amia smiled. “There’ll be time for that later. She’s more formidable than she looks.”

I let that pass, and after an appropriate moment, I brought it back to the subject.

“What’s your problem?”

“I came across some information I wasn’t supposed to; there’s a council gathering against the Priestess Guild. They’ve been accused of sorcery. I need to warn them.”

“Are you part of them?”

“I made my attempt, and they were to get back to me. I don’t know my status.”

“So what role does the council play?”

“They want to kill them. They’re afraid of the arts the priestesses use, and they think they’re going to take over the land.”

“They have more than enough power to do that if they want; the council should know that.”

“The old council did. This new one is headed by a firebrand named Malika. She’s made it her mission to disband the Priestesses and see them executed for witchcraft.”

“But they’re mostly Healers, right?”

“There are some who dabble in the darker arts. We, or I should say, ‘they’, have their secret sects as well, but they are not involved in a take-over bid. That isn’t true, and the council knows it isn’t.”

I sipped some more of the plum wine, and savored it this time.

The fire crackled cheerfully in the silence we’d left as Amia took a sip for herself.

I sighed, knowing I shouldn’t have asked, but those green eyes were pulling me back out of the center of myself, and my resistance crumbled like a fortress of sand.

“What do you want me to do?”

She threw a purse of gold and a rolled up scroll at my feet. “Hire some mercenaries, or whoever you trust, and kill the men on the council. Their names are on the scroll. Take as long as you need to, and don’t say a word to them; I know how much you like to talk, even during a fight.”

I swallowed. She had the truth of it; if I knew I was better than the person I was against, and going to win, the taunting was inevitable, though completely unnecessary. I couldn’t help it.

“And Malika?”

Her green eyes sparkled like emeralds with a phosphorous center. It gave me chills, and I quickly suppressed the memory of the last time I saw that fire.

“I’ll take care of her. Since I’m not one of them yet, it can’t count as betrayal.”

“All right.” I picked up the pen and signed the agreement, then the other form for the supplies. “Where do I sleep?”

Amia laughed, and it was like chimes ringing in a major key, in a gentle wind, on a cloudless day.

“Alazne will show you out,” she said.

Alazne was at the door, holding it open, lantern in hand, the wind frippering her cloak about her.
I chuckled at my stupidity, but there it was.

I made a grand sweeping motion with my arm.

“Lead on, Alazne,” I said, slipping out after her as the door closed by itself behind us, driven by Amia’s power, and I heard the lock click.

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Throne of Armageddon

Empty scabbards

and

broken swords

carelessly tossed

before the

empty throne

Dead torches hang on dampened walls

lighting

Death’s way in perfect

darkness

Distant thunder,

softly rumbling, makes

gentle inquiries,

whispering names of

souls long

vanquished.

All is

ended.

All is

lost.

Behold the throne

of

Armageddon

who no longer

reigns

© Alfred W. Smith Jr.

Soyala and the Traveler

I am new here.

Looking about, exploring, the trace of a finger on a blossom,

the parting of the river current with a dipped finger, the dappled sunlight of high summer in a shady grove, I called out to answer a whispering voice.

A rustle of branches, so slight I thought it a woodland creature, and she emerged into the clearing, saw me seated on the rock, my knife at work on an apple, and without fear she approached.

“Why are you here?”

I looked up, bemused more than startled. “Why do you ask?”

“For the sake of knowing.”

“I was…called…here…” I gestured with my knife to take in the grove in general.

“Who called you?”
I smiled. “Was it not you?”

She did not smile. “If it were me, I would not have asked.”

“I don’t know, then. Am I not welcome?”

She came further toward me, stood before me, examining, her eyes large and luminous, deep, just shy of hypnotic, but with power nonetheless, her robe was the green of a springtime lake, trimmed with gold, with symmetrical swatches of many- hued blues.

“All are welcome here.” Her eyes sparkled with many things, magic, mischief, mystery…

“Ah, good.” I sliced the apple and offered it to her on the tip of the knife. She took it with her fingers, munched awhile, looked about the grove.

“You live here?”

She seemed to give it thought before she answered.

“It is more like we live in each other.”

I began to think she might be mad, so I grew cautious.

“May I ask your name?”

She sighed.

“I have many, and they are all equally unimportant, but if you would name me, I am Soyala.”

I offered her another piece, which she also took.

“I’m pleased to meet you, Soyala.”

“And I you, Traveler.”

“How did you know I was here.”

“I heard your call. There was something in it worth seeing.”

Again, the hint of madness. “How can you see inside a call?”

She looked at me as if I were the dumbest of beasts, then smiled indulgently, and placed her slender hand on my chest.

“The heart, Traveler. The heart speaks for the soul; there is music in the call, and yours was sad. It ached with loneliness, and so I came to keep you company for awhile. ”

I looked at her in amazement, surprised to find a tear rolling down my cheek.

With profound tenderness she took the hem of her green robe, and daubed it off my cheek.

There was a stain of blue there, swirling with various shades of it, before finally deepening, and staying dark.

She looked into my eyes. “You have been alone a very long time. It is love you seek, but I cannot offer it to you, Traveler, or I would give it freely, and you could stay here forever.”

“No one lives forever.”

“But love does, Traveler.”

She pulled back, straightened, smoothed her robes, looked off into the distance, and said it again, softer.

“Love does.”

She took my hand, and led me from the rock.

“Come, I will walk with you to the edge of the grove, back to the road, and our time here together will end.”

“But you said I was welcome.”

She smiled. “I said all are welcome, and they are. But none may stay.”

We walked in silence, the only sound the random trill of birds, and the rustling of her robes, and the crunch of my boots.

Finally we emerged into the light of a westering sun, deepening in shades of amber and tangerine and persimmon, lighting the stitching of cirrus clouds afire from below.

“Will I see you again?” I asked.

She took my face in her hands, and searched my eyes for the depth of the question.

“When you love again, Traveler.”

She released me, took the rest of my apple, and walked away; I heard the rustling of her robes as she left me, and watched her disappear into the trees.

I started down the road and looked up.

The last of the sun was almost gone, and the darkening sky was blue and green, trimmed with a vestige of gold.

And the evening star slipped across the sky, a silver tear from the moon’s saffron cheek, and guided me home.

Knight’s Watch

Markis was in bed with his headphones on, looking out the window on the wet streets of the Lower East Side.
He lived on the third floor, and his bed was by the window, which was dangerous because bullets were known to fly suddenly and randomly, one could have his name on it.
But tonight, he needed to see outside, and the rain normally kept men who could bench press four hundred pounds or more inside, so there was little chance of anything happening tonight.
It was nine thirty on a Friday. He’d gone to school that day, and there were parties going on, but Markis was tired, and as much as he liked to dance and the attention of girls, his body said no, so no it was.

There was a soft knock on the door.
“Markis?”
“Come in, Dad.”
His father left the door open behind him.
“Are you all right?”
Markis smiled. “Yeah, Dad, just tired.”
He sat up and took off his headphones.
His father sat in the chair at Markis’ desk.
“Not like you to stay in.”
“But you don’t mind,” Markis grinned.
His father chuckled. “Not gonna lie, I breathe easier. I’d breathe easier still if you moved that bed from the window.:
“I will; just needed to look out for a bit.”
“Anything interesting?”
“Just rain, and watching the traffic lights change.”
“Good.”
They both laughed, then his father grew serious.
“I know it’s been hard without your mom, hard for both of us, but you’re all I have left, Markis, and I want you to listen to me: there’s nothing you can’t tell me, y’hear?
“We can talk about anything, for as long as you need to, and I’ll listen.”
He said it again, “Y’hear?”
Markis looked at his dad in the striated street light: tee shirt, slacks, black socks with no shoes, one foot on the toes, digging into the cheap, clean carpet; he was still strong, but a little more stooped these days, more rounded in the shoulders.
The death of his bride had deeply shaken him, taken something out that was vital to his very being. It was almost an aura, vibrating on the verge of a breakdown, but his dad was a fighter.

Markis almost wished he wasn’t, but he knew his dad wanted to be strong for both of them.

He understood his father needed him now as much as he needed his father.
Maybe he cried where Markis couldn’t see him.
“I know, Dad. And I promise to come to you.”
His father was visibly relieved, and trusted Markis to keep his word.
They talked about school for a bit; it was a universal truth that parents liked to hear about school. Markis and his friends could never figure out why, but he appreciated that his Dad asked in spite of how mundane school always seemed to be.
His dad finally yawned, sat on the edge of the bed, gave Markis a hug and a dry kiss on the ear.
“I love you, son.”
“Love you too, Dad.”
His dad left, closing the door behind him, to go to his own bed, now emptier by one.

*******************
Markis was about to put his earbuds back in, when a movement across the street grabbed his attention.
Part of his view included a bar that his parents used to frequent when they wanted to go out, and didn’t want to go far.

It was a neighborhood fixture, and his dad would take him there when he was younger to watch games on the large screen, and the men would give Markis team hats, buy him sodas or juices, and mock argue with him about the players and teams he liked. 
Markis would laugh and his dad would put his arm around his shoulders and say, “Ya’ll better leave my son alone, ‘fore I hurt you.”
Markis loved those days, but as the neighborhood got older, it slipped away, and the men left in various ways: some through crime, some through disease, some through violence, and some through alcohol.

The bar had fallen into disuse, and got boarded up. In a month it was open with a banner that said “Under New Management,” but he and his Dad never went back.

************************

A man came out of the bar, not too steady on his feet, but not stumbling.
He lit a cigarette, giving himself time to get adjusted to the cool autumn air, clear his head, get his bearings before heading home, when a woman in a short black skirt and leather jacket walked up to him.
The man smiled, looked her up and down, interested in what she had to say. Then his face changed, and he began to back up, when a hand came around and covered his mouth, and a knife slit his throat.
The streetlamp that lit the front of the bar flickered and went out, and when it came back on, the man and whoever cut his throat were gone; there was no blood in the street, no body, no weapon, and only the first woman remained, checking up and down the street.
Oh hell! Now I’m a witness, he thought.
The woman was crossing the street, coming toward his building.
He was on the third floor, but he was getting ambient light, and he pushed himself into a shadowed corner.
The woman stopped just before his window, and looked up, right into it, as if he were completely exposed. Her eyes flashed a serpentine yellow for an instant, her full lipped smile was feral.
Are you, Markis? her voice was low and purring, as if she was sitting by his side. Are you sure you want to be a… witness?
She lifted her hand, waggled her fingers at him in a girlish greeting.
You should’ve gone out tonight, baby.

She vanished, leaving a trace of black vapor slowly dissipating in the cool night air.

In the Temple of Her Heart (Chapter 2)

Heat suffused his face at her words, her boldness. She laughed, playful, delighted at his discomfort, and charmed by it too, and left him with the tingling warmth of her hand under his chin, as if he were the dog that rescued her, and she’d scratched his fleas there in gratitude.

And there it was, the opportunity of a lifetime, all because of a rabid dog.

In and of herself, Nahaia was pleasing to the eye, and Arlun counted himself fortunate; marriages were often arranged, and he’d seen some of the mates of his friends, both male and female, and his heart went out to them.

He knew, at least in theory, that in matters of the heart such things were ultimately superficial, since some of those marriages flourished in spite of the physical shortcomings; it wasn’t often, but it did happen. Shaking his head again as he packed, he put it from his mind.

It was not an issue for him.

Strange land, strange customs, strange people, foods, gods, and so forth were going to occupy his days so much that he didn’t need to worry about anything else.

The sun climbed, wearing down the day hour by hour, until finally, shortly after noon, he was ready to depart.

After tearful goodbyes and long hugs that showed fear and reluctance of accepting their new positions, they realized that in their eagerness to please, they’d opened themselves up to public examination, and courtly interference; there was nothing to be done for it now.

Arlun set out on a good, sturdy horse his father procured from the local horse trader; the man’s eyes positively glittered with greed at the thought of having a palace connection, and he was all too happy to accept a small deposit for a lucrative profit when the horse arrived safely; Arlun’s father’s word had proven consistently good throughout the years, and he was respected and trusted as a man of integrity, even among those who snickered at his poverty behind his back.

The animal was fine and even-tempered, and Arlun found himself relaxing as the road unfolded in its own lazy, meandering way toward the land of his bride-to-be. The afternoon sun was not overbearing, and the road was empty of everything except the creatures of habit that needed to cross it.

Seeing no real need to rush, his hands easy on the reins, he let the horse set it’s pace, and allowed his mind to wander…

She was resplendent in a gown of dark blue trimmed with gold, bedecked with a necklace, rings, ankle bracelet, and armbands set with sapphires and lapis lazuli, her raven hair unbound, but styled to frame her delicate face, and draped just so over her slim shoulders, her deep brown eyes rimmed with kohl and shadow, and when she smiled at him, his heart was bewitched beyond recall.

He heard no music, tasted no food, saw no other rival for her in his eyes, and blinded his heart to the possibility. 

Her father saw the stars in his daughter’s eyes, and the smitten smirk on the young man’s lips, and approved, for the youth, as far as he was concerned, had already proven his valor. His queen spoke to Arlun’s mother of plans, and he spoke to Arlun’s father of coin, and before the night was over, an agreement was reached.

  Arlun knew none of it, and would not have cared if told.

  As they danced, he breathed in the honeysuckle fragrance on Nahaia’s cinnamon skin, longed to taste the berry stained gloss of her lips, wet and gleaming in the festive light; he longed to hold the slender, graceful sway of her body and make it sway in other ways, and could tell by her shy smile that these were mysteries she would keep for him alone until he pledged for her.

  “Ah, Nahaia, my princess, my bride, my wife…” he rolled the words from his tongue, thoughts in the distance, and at first did not hear the rider fast approaching behind him.

When he did, it was too late.