Playing with Matches

Thevina Editor's Pick

Editor's Pick

Playing with Matches
by Elfscribe

Story Notes

By elfscribe,  elfscribe5@yahoo.com

Characters: Calanthe, Terzian, Pellaz, Cobweb, Swift, Ithiel, OC
Rating: Adult

Beta: Thevina
Spoiler: Enchantments

Disclaimer: Storm Constantine owns all to do with the Wraeththu universe. I am borrowing her characters for my own nefarious purposes.

Summary: What exactly happened during those hours when Terzian seduced Cal “with the fire power of a volcano?”

Author’s note: A few lines of dialogue have been taken from The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirit.  They are indicated with italics.

Playing with Matches

Terzian was drunk.  That, right there, was cause for alarm. The first crack I’d seen in the cool, controlled exterior. He paused at the door. “Cal, I have to speak to you,” he’d said ominously, then walked into the room, his leather garments creaking softly as he moved, the sound vaguely menacing.  He dropped into a chair at the table where we were finishing dinner.  “Pellaz!” he growled with a dismissive jerk of his chin.

Pellaz, sweet, innocent Pell with the face of an angel, took the hint.  Got up from his chair, excused himself, and left.  Left me to my devils.  Oh Pell, why? I’m not strong, you know that.  I’m a tramp, a cat in heat.  And Terzian is stretching his claws.

I smiled at him – a lazy Cal smile, like a laser beam of charm. Well do I know it.  “What do you want, Terzian?”

His eyes: hungry, shadowed, direct. “You know what I want.”

Well, so much for a long, slow seduction.  But we’d already been at it for weeks.  He wasn’t one to play coy and I must have been making him crazymad.  Oh Pell didn’t see it.  But I did. An arched eyebrow. A hand: clenched, unclenched.  A twitch in the jaw.  The very air between us thrumming with aruna magic.  Beckoning. And I must admit, I played him.  Batted him about in the sunshine like a ball of twine. Slanted glances, a flip of tawny hair, the insouciant remark. There is only so long you can do that with one such as him before the explosion comes.  Bad Cal.  Playing with matches.

During this dance, I was aware of his consort Cobweb in the background. I could feel him, hissing quietly, mouth open. Green as a viper.  It adds to my sin that I didn’t care. For right now there was only Terzian: a powerful, dominant presence: pulled taut like a longbow, growling, needy. Power such as his draws me. It always has.  Fills me with a desire to bite and claw, a need to surrender. My blood itched with challenge.  I was Uigenna to his Varr.  Showdown.

“What do I get out of it?”  I asked, examining my nails, noting the nicks in the black nail polish.  I’m such an imposter.

“What do you get out it,” Terzian repeated thoughtfully as if assessing a trade.  He picked up a spoon, tapped the bowl against his lips.  “It would seem lodging, food, security, would already be payment enough.”

“I was under the impression that you extended your hospitality to Pell and me in gratitude for rescuing your consort. You never said there was a price for it.”

“There wasn’t,” Terzian said abruptly.  He got up from the table and walked about the dining room, picking up objects and setting them down again.  Finally, he turned to look at me. “I would hope you would get pleasure out of it.”
I leaned back in my chair, laughed.  He narrowed his eyes.

He was used to being obeyed, not to being played. I could tell it was making him agitated, as if feeling his way along uneven ground, whereas I’m an old hand at this.  In the game of seduction, I always win.  He was quite attractive in a lean, sinewy way.  His prominent cheekbones were set off by a long triangle of shadow beneath; lips lush and sharp-edged; predatory blue eyes surrounded by an unnaturally long fringe of dark lashes, one of the few feminine things about him.  His thick, blond hair was cut in shaggy layers almost carelessly, shorter on top.  Attractive yes, but it was more than that.  I could feel his male side channeled into a deadly machine of control.  I didn’t expect him to be a subtle lover, but yes, now that it had come to it, I fancied feeling his weight on top of me.  I’m sorry Pell.  I can pretend he overpowered me.  I am pretending.

I took a cigarette from his case on the table. Tapped the end on my plate. “Give me a light,” I said and placed it between my teeth. Grinned at him around it.

He smiled back. A rare thing for him and it was charming. I could almost hear the self-satisfied purr. He moved towards me with deliberation.  A snap of a metal lighter.  Flare of heat.  I leaned into it.  The smoke rushed into my lungs and I released it slowly, let it curl seductively out of my mouth.  Looked at him sidelong, tongue sliding along the soft interior of my lips, coming to rest just in the seam between top and bottom lip.  His eyes followed every movement.

He sat down in the chair next to me, straddled it backwards and rested his forearms on the top of it. Just the proximity of his forceful presence was making me hard and yet soume at the same time.  It was a strange reaction, not unknown for me, but strange to be feeling so completely androgynous.  I suppose it was pure Wraeththu, except that it’s how I felt before I was incepted – when all I knew was that I was a boy who liked boys.

“I’m not very good at this, I admit,” he said.  “But, I want to tell you that you are beautiful.  The most beautiful har I’ve seen in a long time – maybe ever.”

“Mmm,” I said. The cigarette dangled loosely from my lips as I picked up one of his hands and examined the palm. Traced the lifeline to where it ended. His hand, relaxed and heavy in mine. Dry skin. Long fingers, sensitive and blunt. I thought about other parts of him, whether they would be like that.  Looked back up to his eyes: narrow diamond shape, glittering sky-pale in their fringe of black.  Removed the cigarette from my mouth, flamboyantly. “Is that all you’ve got, Terzian?  Because if you think you’re the first to tell me I’m beautiful, you’d be quite mistaken.”

“No feelings of inadequacy, huh, Cal?”

“Not when it comes to how I look. Even before I was incepted, they all told me – all the pretty boys told me that I was the prettiest.  Becoming har only made it more so. Frankly it bores me.”

No one has so many lies to tell as I. Truthfully, I’m always pleased when they find me beautiful. Who isn’t?

I dropped his hand. Rested my elbow on the table, wrist cocked.  The cigarette smoke fretted lazily into the air, ladder to heaven. “Feelings of inadequacy about other things, yes.  I’m really quite worthless, you know, Terzian. I’m a liar, a cheater, a murderer. You don’t want me.”

“Now, you are bragging, Cal. Do you think me shocked by such things?”  I could see he was amused, as well he might be. I imagine nothing I’d done in my sordid past was a patch on his crimes. And yet all I’d seen during my sojourn in his house was a somewhat distant and magnanimous host who had developed a . . . thing for me. But I knew better.  Could feel darkness in him.

He raked a hand through his unruly blond hair, played with one of the three silver hoops in his ear, watched me.  The narcissist in me preened at such regard.

I stood up, nudging the chair out of the way, went to the large earthenware jug on the sideboard and poured myself a draught of sheh. Turned to look at him again.  I was not sure why I was doing this. Flirting with him, I mean. He was eating me up with his eyes. Cannibalistic. His thoughts were not at all subtle.   I saw him mentally rip off my skin-tight pants and my shirt, which was unbuttoned halfway down my chest.  It was intoxicating.  I shifted my weight to a cocked hip, cigarette in one hand, glass in the other.

“Do you know you have a short lifeline, Terzian?” I said.

“So Cobweb tells me.  Do you know that you are insolent?”

“So many a har has told me. It’s an endearing quality, don’t you think?”  The sheh was burning its way down my throat.  I’d already had too much.

“Will it take promises?” he said with a hint of hesitation, as if plunging into a cold lake. “I would do anything for you, Cal.  I would make you my consort. Give you anything you want.”

I stopped mid-gulp.  Eyed him. For the first time feeling an edge of fear.  “Why do you think I would want that? Besides, you already have a consort.”

“Yes, I have one.  There is no reason why I can’t have another.”

“Oh, so this isn’t about attraction, it’s about power. About showing off to the world.  ‘I am Terzian, the Varr, head of an army, master of my house.  I can have any har I want.’”

He scowled.  That had made him angry.  Good.

“I can have any har I want,” he growled.  He stood up, approached like a lithe, tawny cat in all his crunchy, black leather menace and glory.  I felt a thrill prickle up my spine.  He came close, too close, leaned his shoulder up against the wall, arms crossed. He said, “I could snap my fingers, like that,” which he did, right under my nose, “and five hara would be here ready to do my bidding.”

“You think I don’t know that,” I replied.   I took another drag on the cig. Blew a thin stream of smoke at his face, ever so gently. “So then, Tiger, what would you bid them do?”

He reached up, rolled a strand of my hair between his fingers.  With wonder in his voice, he said, “So fine your hair, like a skein of silk.”  Then his tone changed to a smooth, low rumble that hit just the right note to reverberate in my loins. “What would I tell them?  Perhaps it would be, ‘Drag this insolent har to my room. Tie him to the bed – spread eagle. Bring me a whip and a candle.’”

I laughed lightly, although I was responding to him like a bird pretending a wounded wing. Skilled, are you, in the art of sweet pain? Would that be enjoyable for you, to have me at your mercy like that?”

“Yes, but not as enjoyable as having you writhing under me, screaming with ecstasy.” His voice went softer, almost pleading. “I want you, Cal.  I’ll take you any way I can, if I have to, but I’d rather . . .” He hesitated, bit his lip gently.

“You’d rather I wanted it too,” I finished.  “How novel.”  I ran a hand down his chest, feeling the smooth cured leather under the balls of my fingers, plucked at a metal fastener on a placket over his heart, pulling and twisting as if it were his nipple.  “How un-Varr,” I continued.

He inhaled a quick breath, then seized my arms in a grip of steel and threw me against the wall hard enough to let me know he meant business, not so hard that it could be considered pelki. My glass flew from my hand, dropped to the floor with a crash.  The cigarette sailed in after it, drowning with a soft phsst.

“I’m done playing games, Cal,” he growled.  The impact knocked away my breath for a moment, then Terzian was giving me his.  A taste of iron and blood, oak leaves, mist, ragged wings fluttering. He brought his knee up between my legs, pressed his thigh against my crotch, leaned his weight into it as he ravaged my mouth, his warm tongue hunting mine. A long ridge at his groin brutally rubbed against my hip. My body thrilled, snapping like green lightning, making the juices flow.  Then he was biting my neck, his hands slid down my back, cupped my rear as he pulled me right up onto his thigh. “Ride it,” he husked.

“Yes. Yes,” I moaned.

“I’ve run out of patience. You’ve played with me too long, Cal. You knew exactly what you were doing.  Didn’t you?  But I think you’ve miscalculated. You need to learn more respect.  And I’m the one who will teach it to you.”

“You’re hardly the first to want to try,” I gasped.

He turned around with me still perched on his knee and tossed me onto the table amidst a clatter of dishes.  I remember thinking, rather prosaically, that it was a good thing the table was so solid and that the servants had already cleared most of the meal. Then he was fumbling with the zipper on my pants, jerking it down, pulling the fabric apart enough to get a hand inside.  “Ah, soume and wet,” he said with a triumphant flash of his eyes. “Insolent little Cal.”

“Wait, wait a moment,” I said as I attempted to extricate a fork from under my backside, but he was preoccupied, having hooked his fingers over my waistband, and was violently working my pants off my hips and downwards, scraping nails across tender skin.  One leg caught on my boot and he tugged the boot free and the pants with it and tossed them to the floor.  There I was, bared from the waist down and spread out for him, another feast on his table, with my ass on a damned plate to boot.  I would have laughed if I’d had any breath left.  He grasped the edges of my shirt, pulled it apart with a snap.  The buttons flew.  I didn’t care.  It was his shirt anyway.

“Um, Terzian,” I gasped, but he was already unzipping his pants, pulling himself out. Oh yes, just as I’d thought, long and thick and so hard, pulsing with color: scarlet and gold.  He was going too fast.  This wasn’t aruna, not really, and did I care?  No.  And then, oh Aghama, he had seized my hips, pulled me forward, speared me in one long, searing, heart-stopping thrust.  I heard the scream.  Was that me?  I thought the whole household would come bounding in.  Before I could catch a breath, he was going at it, violently.  Bang, bang, bang.  The table shook, glassware and crockery clanged and rolled.  Oh, but it was good. It was good.  I wanted to be hurt, to be ravished.  I heard myself laughing, crying out, “Terzian, you bastard. Is that it?  That’s all you can do? Damn you! Harder. Harder.”

Fast.  Too fast.  My mind was in a whirl, the pleasure blazing.  I felt myself tearing at his leather-clad arms, arching and rolling, as if I was a beast lashing and curling my tail.  I wanted him, wanted him.  Harder.  The table shuddered with every thrust, holding fast in its steadfast solidity.  A glass rolled and smacked into my head but I hardly felt it.  “Please, please, please,” I was chanting.  Deeper. And then finally, after an age, an eon, when sweat laced my chest, dripped into my eyes, he gasped, his eyes rolled back, then he leaned down and sealed his mouth to mine, sending me his breath, alive with lust.  A shudder, stillness, and then movement deep, deep within me as the feeler tongue licked the nerve, sparking a wildfire that roared up and engulfed me.  I screamed again. Heard him roar with me. Everything went black for a moment.

When I opened my eyes, he was tucking himself back into his pants.  He met my glance and the look was surprisingly tender.  He bent over me, ran a hand down my cheek. “I knew we’d get on together. You’re a hellion.”

Shivers of electricity raced through me, now cold, now hot.

“What the fuck did you think that was?” I growled and pulled the plate out from under my ass, where I swear it had left a permanent imprint.  Tossed it over my head. Crash of fracturing china.  “That wasn’t aruna, whatever you Varrs might think.”

He just smiled.  Slow and taunting.  “Not so cocky now, little Calanthe. The Uigenna don’t have so much to brag about either when it comes to niceties.”  And before I could think of a good retort, he’d grasped my hair and gone for my mouth again. At first hard.  Then more relaxed, slow and deliberate.  “Better now?” he purred, when mouths finally separated. “That was just the beginning. A get acquainted fuck.  I intend to roon you to the stars and back before we’re done.  Tell me you didn’t find that pleasurable. I know you liked it.”

I could only shudder with aftershocks, like sparkling wine.

He moved away from me, looking like a cat with cream around his mouth.  Found the cigarette pack somewhere in the mess, shook out two, put them in his mouth and lit them, then handed one to me.  When I took it, I noticed my hand was shaking. Sat up, rested my feet on a chair, elbows propped in my lap, and eyed him narrowly.  Beneath me the tablecloth was wet.  “A fine mess we’ve left for your staff,” I muttered.

“No one will complain,” he said. “There are times when it’s good to be lord and master.” He blew a billowing cloud to the ceiling like the exhale of some dragon.

Oh damn.  I wanted to say, ‘Take me up to your room, strip me naked, do unspeakable things to me,’ but I kept it to myself.  I imagined that it would happen soon enough without my begging for it.

At that moment the door opened and in came Cobweb wearing a flowing green robe, hair wild.  I had only seen him once since the rescue.  He was still pale and much too skinny but now I could see why Terzian valued him. All eyes and delicate bones, long white arms, a prescience of beauty that, given more care and food would bloom into an arcane lily. However, at the moment his face was painfully pinched, aghast.  His eyes filled with thorns as he took in the scene and my nakedness.  “How could you disgrace me like this!” he hissed.

“This doesn’t concern you, Cobweb,” Terzian said.  He flicked an ash on the floor.

“It would be one thing, quietly in your room, but like this so that the whole household knows!”

Terzian’s eyes narrowed. “Get out,” he said in a voice like low thunder. “Make sure we’re not disturbed.”  Cobweb gave me a look of sizzling venom and fled.

I hopped off the table, found my pants and wriggled into them, ignoring the wet spots I created in the process.  The shirt hung off my shoulders, flapping open.  “Now what?”  I mocked.

“Now,” he picked a purple iris out of the vase on the sideboard and presented it to me, with that charming smile, “we go up to my room and see if we can plumb the depths of aruna magic.  What do you say?”

“You’re actually asking?”  I replied.  “I thought you would just club me on the head and throw me over your shoulder.”

He curled his lips around the cigarette, pulled in a puff, blew it out slowly.  “That can be arranged, if you prefer.”  Voice cool, with the faintest menace behind it. He stubbed out the butt on a plate.

What I preferred was keeping at least some shreds of dignity. Going with him was a foregone conclusion.  I opened the door and gestured.  “Lead on, my lord Varr.”  We left the dining room without a backward glance.

He paused at the foot of the stair. “You go on up.  You know where it is.  I have some things to arrange.”

And so, I found myself treading up the wide curving staircase, shadowy in the dim light, my footsteps muffled in the dark red carpet.  Suddenly images from an animation I’d seen when very young – when still human – came to me.  Surrounded by an eerie light, a beautiful woman with waist-length blond hair wearing a long, blue dress climbed a stair. A disembodied voice of evil called to her and, spellbound, she was unable to resist.  She walked as if in a dream, floating, up and up the winding staircase, compelled to such an extent that there was no conscious thought involved.  Was that me?

I buried my nose in the iris, which smelled like gum. ‘Calanthe,’ the dream voice called.  ‘Coming,’ I thought.  Oh yes, Calanthe, mesmerized by a leather-clad King of Alley-cats.  That’s what he was, no matter the elegance of the trappings. I couldn’t help myself, had to see where the stairway led to, had to reach that siren voice.

Chapter 2

There. At the top of the stairs and a turn down the hall loomed the intimidating double doors leading to his bedroom.  I’d never been inside before, but oh yeah he was right that I knew where it was.  Had thought about it every time I passed it on the way to our room at the other end of the house. Now I had a choice.  I could walk on by and go to Pell – curl into the safety of his slim arms, drown myself in the whisper of dark hair. I could trace the perfect slope of his nose. Watch his ebony sweep of eyelashes flutter against that clear golden skin while he slept.  I felt drawn in that direction.  But, stronger still was the part of me that wanted to feel dirty and used. Longed and ached and lusted for it.  I threw open the doors to Terzian’s lair. Walked in like I was a queen or maybe a fairy prince.  The image made me giggle.

There was a sitting area near the entrance with tables, a desk, overstuffed leather chairs and a divan. It was partially closed off from the main room by a wall.  When I peered around the wall, I saw that the bedroom was spacious and rather over-elegant as befitted the lord and master of the house.  It had whitewashed walls with gilt decoration around the plaster mouldings; a high ceiling painted to look like a blue sky at sunset with fiery edges to white clouds and a floral patterned carpet against a deep red background. Large, gilt-framed paintings of landscapes, ships at sea, and men on horseback hung on the walls.  The furniture was heavy, dark wood with lots of masculine and vaguely menacing knobs and tooling.   To the left were double doors with many small glass panes that opened up to a balcony.  To the right, at the far end of the room was a huge canopied bed, hung with short tasseled drapes at the top. Delicate gauzy white curtains twisted around the upper frame and draped down alongside each heavy wooden post. Nearby there was a large fireplace, all white plaster and gilt paint. Many candles flickered on the mantelpiece and on several tables. There was a half-open door beyond the bed that must lead to a bathroom.

In the sitting room on the low table, rested an ashtray, cigarette case, half-empty bottle and several glasses.  This must have been where he got drunk before coming to waylay me.  I wondered if Ithiel, his second in command had used the other glass.  A vase containing a huge arrangement of flowers sat on another table.  I stuck the iris into it.

I was dying to explore, to open drawers, closets, look in the bathroom.  Find out what made him tick.  But I didn’t want to be caught at it.  Time enough for it later.  Instead I plopped myself down on the leather divan, poured myself the rest of whatever was in the bottle, hoping it would be fiercely alcoholic.  It was. Put my feet up on the low table and waited for him.

I didn’t have to wait long.  He arrived, followed by one of the house hara with another bottle and a tray of food.  The har didn’t look at me the whole time, merely set things out and then backed out, closing the doors behind him.

Terzian sat down comfortably in one of the overstuffed leather chairs, and crossed his legs.  He lit up a cigarette and contemplated me through half-closed eyelids.  “Have some.”  He indicated the tray of dainties: cheese, crusty bread, pastries, berries, little pots of sweet sauce.

“So kind of you but I just ate, as you might recall,” I replied dryly.  “Why did you bother?”

“You may want something later. I think you’ll be quite hungry in fact.”

“Are you so sure of me?  What if I leave?”

“You’re here, are you not?  That’s half the battle.  And if I’m not mistaken, my essence is still oozing from your soume-lam.  And that is the other half.”

“It depends on what your goal is,” I said, aware of the sordid fact of the wetness and the tingle of recently abraded flesh.

His eyes glittered with something predatorily feline.  “My desire is to wrap you in fur and jewels, and taste your soul while I paint your body with my essence.  And somewhere in the depths of the night, I desire to break you open, take you as no one has ever done before.”

I felt a hot lurch in my loins, along with an anxious ripple in my belly.  Not a good combination and likely to cloud my judgment. “Bad strategy to tell me such things,” I said.

“Why?  Does it make you afraid, little insolent Cal?”

Time for an offensive. “Does fear turn you on, Terzian? It does, doesn’t it.”

I got up and moved towards him, sinuously exaggerating my hip movements. He watched me without answering, his eyes suddenly greedy.  I said in my most sultry voice, “Does it matter whether others fear you or whether you are afraid yourself, Terzian? Is it a turn-on either way?  Because I could satisfy either desire.”

“I was hoping you might,” he said gruffly.

Now I stood in front of him, moving slowly and gracefully, undulating back and forth to a drumbeat in my head.  I shrugged the tattered remains of the shirt off my shoulders, let it fall to the ground.  Ran my hands over my chest.  He leaned back watching, and took another drag of the cigarette.   Then I raised a long leg. I’m vain, I know, but they are long by anyone’s standards, straddled his lap, and then slowly sank down into it.  When I got there and nestled down into him, I had a ridge at my groin to match his.

He could feel it. I could tell it disturbed him. “What’s this?” he said, with an arch of his eyebrow.  His hand wandered along, outlining it with two fingers.  With his other hand, he put out the cigarette in the ashtray.

“Why Terzian, haven’t you encountered one of these before?  Don’t you like my ‘lim? You’ll find I can use mine just as well as you used yours.  Maybe better. Try it, Terzian, try being soume. It’s there, inside you.”

I do love to play dangerously.  I rocked my hips, nudging him – hard. Put a hand between us and rubbed against us both.

“Insolent little Cal,” he purred with a rich vibrato as he reached behind my head and brought my mouth to his.   Once more the smell and taste that were his alone: smoke, stone, moss.  His tongue was aggressively stroking mine into frenzy.

“Mmmmm,” I said, drinking of him.  I rocked against him harder; our ouana-lims clashed, slid across one another, parried.  With a little growl, he pushed on the small of my back causing me to arch up, and in that moment he’d captured one of my nipples in his mouth.  I gasped.  His tongue rolled around it, back and forth.  Teasing, he nibbled, pulled, then suddenly he was sucking, at first gently and then harder.  Shivers of delight coursed through me.  “That’s good,” I said.

He let go and moved to the other one.  I could feel the slickness of my folds, longing for him again.  Wanted to feel his hands, his mouth. Wanted him to overwhelm me again with pounding flesh.  Bad Cal.  So soon forgetting your darling Pell.  Leaving him to wonder in the night.  We must not be selfish with each other.  The Wraeththu mantra.  And yet.  And yet . . .

“Ah,” I cried as his lips wrung more sensation from my tender flesh.  His hands played with me, grasped my rear and moved me back and forth against his groin.  More and more I felt myself losing control.  He was dominating my thoughts with images of lust, which I knew he was projecting. Sleek, beautiful bodies writhing and grinding.  I could feel myself slipping down into a vortex of heat.

“Be soume again for me, Cal,” he murmured against my chest.  “I want you that way.”

“So much nicer, though, with both in play,” I said aggressively.  “Didn’t you like boys before, Terzian?”

“Before no longer exists. There is only Wraeththu now.”

“I gather you’re doing your best to destroy whatever human remnants are still around,” I purred.  “I have to wonder at your devotion to the task.”

“Get up,” he commanded and gave me a slap on the rear.  I moved backwards, slid upright. “Take the pants off, darling,” he said with an iron smile. “Do it slowly.”

So I obliged him, wriggling the cloth off my hips, tossing it aside. “Turn around,” he said.

And I did, a wide stance, hands on hips, looking over my shoulder.  I pushed my fingers up through my hair, fluffing it up into gold-colored froth.  Pouted my lips.  Rotated slowly. “Like it?” I said with a self-satisfied smile.

He stared, his face blooming with lust. “You have a beautiful body, Cal,” he said.

“Why thank you.  I’ve yet to see yours, all of it that is. Are you ashamed of it?”

He snarled as he rose to his feet, rippling, golden, leonine – unzipped the jacket with a tearing metal sound and let it fall, then the shirt, baring a chest and arms with a warrior’s smooth, precise curves. He had leather bands about his biceps and a tattoo of a tiger that wrapped around his body from shoulder to chest.  The tight leather pants followed soon after.  Nothing under them. I bit my lip. He was ouana and hard. The petals just beginning to peel back. Damn, he was fine.

He reached down, stroked himself. “Don’t you have a better use for that bratty mouth of yours?” he said.

I fell on my knees, servicing him like some well-used whore. Grasped his arse and swallowed him.

“Ah yes, much better,” he purred.

It pleased me to feel him begin to shiver and lose control, feel his thighs flexing, his hands grasping for a hold in my hair.  Just when I could feel the air tighten and hum around us, I released him.

He snarled at me.  I crouched and growled.  He lunged. I sidestepped, swiped at him with black lacquered claws, drew blood.   He recoiled with a hiss, then laughed. “Insolent little Cal,” he purred. Circled me, looking for an opening.

I lunged, grappled with him.  There was a swirl of motion, something crashing to the floor.  He flung me against the wall, attacked my mouth with his. I reversed it, so that it was me pinning him to the wall, taking his breath, he taking mine.  Animal-like with grunts, snarls.  Ouana, both of us, and dueling for top spot.  Shove, grind, slam. Damn, it was exhilarating.  The blood pounded in my loins.

With sheer brute force, he was moving me backwards.  I hissed at him.  He grabbed me, pulling our bodies together.  Then he covered my mouth with his, grabbed my hair and pulled.  His warm, slick tongue curled around mine, lashing, sucking.  I gave way, stepping backwards, yielding, since I knew where we were headed and I wanted to be there too.  He bit my neck, a particular weakness of mine, and I felt an answering trickle of fluid sliding down my leg.  He filled his hands with my arse.  “You’re mine, Cal,” he purred.  “What did I promise?”

“A roon to the stars and back.  And here I thought you were just bragging.”

“Tomorrow morning you can judge whether or not I exaggerated,” he said and licked his lips like a fox.

Nearly swooning with anticipation, I retreated, could feel the change in flooring under my bare feet from wood to carpet. And then we reached the bed.  Abruptly, it contacted the backs of my thighs.  A high bed – right height for . . .

He grinned.  “I can nearly hear your thoughts, darling.  You want it, don’t you?”

“In as many interesting ways as you can think up, Terzian.”

Swiftly, he grasped my shoulders and spun me around.  “You think you’re a tough one,” he said in my ear.

“Just beyond fear,” I said, although it was not so, as I was to find out.

He slapped my arse hard – several times. It hurt in an aching way that caused me to become harder than I’d thought possible.  Sliding his hand around my hip and down between my legs, he tested.

“Still ouana,” he said with a low growl.  He placed a light stinging slap just at the base of my ouana-lim and I jumped under his hands, yelping with more force this time.  I twisted around in his arms and gripped his throat – squeezed.

“You can’t beat it out of me,” I said.  “What do you think soume is, Terzian? Submission?”

“Have it your way,” he gasped.  And I let him go.  He stepped backwards, rubbing his throat, with a kind of cruel satisfaction in his eyes.  I felt more aggressive than ever; this night was not over yet.

“Do you wish to be wooed with kindness and soft words?”

“Hardly.”  My mouth was dry.  “My inception was brutal.  I’ve known aruna in all its forms, but mostly just like this, Terzian, two steps away from pelki, which I can give just as well as I can take. Want to find out?”

He slid his arms around me again, chewed on my neck which he’d already discovered made me melt.  And so I melted.  He husked into my ear, “It’s not called pelki if you desire it, Cal.  Do you desire me? Because I won’t take you again unless you want it.  You have to tell me.”

I could feel the hot aching flush of longing. Yes, I wanted him.  There had never been any question about that.   I didn’t even have to voice my acquiescence.

He turned me around so that I was facing the bed. I felt him spread me open and then – intense pleasure, a shooting star that shrieked up inside me and focussed in my pulsing ouana-lim. He wrapped a hand around it and stroked as he pumped in and out, striking sikras like sparks.  “Is it good like this?” he guttered.

“Fuck yes,” I snarled as I pushed back, grinding him deeper.

“I’m learning to love that foul mouth of yours.”

He bit my ear, stuck his tongue in it, then sank his teeth in my neck again as he pounded away.  He was certainly good for a rough fucking – that I’d give him any day.

“You’re a kinky har,” he said in my ear. “But as you can see, I’m accommodating you.”  He stroked my ouana-lim.  I turned my head and he stuck his tongue in my mouth again.  I nipped it.  He pulled back with a growl and gripped more tightly until I almost felt he was choking it.

“Let go,” I cried.

Suddenly he withdrew – everything.  I felt the loss as an emptiness that cried out.  He turned me around and pushed me back on the bed and climbed on top with a triumphant look in his eye.  I had become completely soume. He speared me again, pulling me flush to his belly, filling me full to bursting. Began a slow motion, like the piston of an engine starting up, gaining momentum.  He held me down by my wrists and worked me.  Worked me. Lights arched and flashed in my sight.  There was a roaring in my ears, counterpoint to the heavy squeaking of the bedsprings.  Then a sparkling radiance was cascading down, turning into fireflies and fleeing.  Was he doing that or was it me?  Or perhaps it was our particular combination of talents. The gauzy fabric on the bedposts slowly flared and wove about us.  “We’re making the magic,” he said in my mind. And it seemed I saw lying next to us, wrapped in a golden haze, lovely hara, barely clad in silks and jewels, moving their hips sinuously.  There was a slick wet sound of movement as he stroked all the right spots within me.  I arched and writhed like a cat rolling on its back in the dust.

“What do you want?” I heard him say in my thoughts. “I’ll give it to you, Cal, if it’s within my power. Just name it.”

What did I want?  Did I even know? Animals prowled on the threshold of hearing. The patterns of light changed to a sun rising in hissing, scarlet glory, and the blood throbbing in my ears became a warrior’s drumbeat.  Flowers bloomed open, sizzling, igniting and curling in flames.  Suddenly the light burst and flung itself at me like a flood. “Oh, shit, shit.”  I arched upward, snarled, and raked my nails across his back as I forced him in deeper. His answering howl was muffled in my hair.  Slowly the sunburst faded as if the sparks had sunk into the floor and walls.

Silence.

He lay on me heavy for a while. “Oh my god,” he finally managed.  Slowly, he rolled to the side.

I was past speech.  For a long time I stared at the ceiling through the gauzy canopy made golden in the flickering light of candles, floating in post-arunic ecstasy, and thought of Pell.

I saw him as I had first seen him, standing in the middle of a dirt road to nowhere. A cloud of dark hair from which peeped elfin wide eyes in a face striking in its luminous, innocent beauty.  A wild fox-child in a stark, red land.  What do they say – it was like lightning striking?  It was as if all my life had been leading to that one incandescent moment. There was no remorse about stealing him away from his family who had been so kind to me.  Remorse came later when I went to him after the three days of inception horror, three days of his screams ringing through the walls, feeling guilty and selfish because it had been me who had done it to him.  He lay there scared as a doe, reproach and the memory of pain in those huge eyes, covers pulled up to his chin. And yet even then he trusted me. How did I dare do it to him then?  I’ll never know, and yet that joining was all I’d ever wanted.  More than mere pleasure.  A merging of souls.  Why did I want to keep walls between us?  Why was I here? With someone else?

I became aware that Terzian was kissing my face, slowly pressing his lips against my jaw, my cheekbone, my eyes.  The hand slid down my shoulder, over my arm, wrapped around my waist, pulled me closer.  “I told you we’d go to the stars,” he murmured.  “We’re not even on the return journey yet.”  He reached down, dipped up a finger of his sparkling essence from my sticky folds and gently rubbed it into my belly.

I turned my face away.

Terzian sighed. “What’s the matter, Calanthe?”

I sat up, hugging my knees.  “He’s going to wonder what has become of me.”

Terzian reached for cigarettes on the low table near the bed, lit one.  “I don’t think he’s wondering anything,” he said.  “He’s occupied.”

I felt a jolt of understanding. “Who did you send to him?” I was strangely angry in one part, dispassionate in the other.  We must not be selfish with each other. Wraeththu mantra.

“Some har,” he said.

“No!” I turned and looked down at him, lying there smug, smoking.  “And Cobweb went.”

“I expect so.  He fights me tooth and nail, but ultimately he accommodates my wishes.”

“You’re a bastard!”

“Not so.  Pell is very beautiful and he has a clear spirit. He’ll be like a drink of spring water. And Cobweb has remarkable talents.  They’re fine, Cal.  Take your thoughts from them.  Are you hungry?”

I shook my head.

“Maybe later,” he said. He moved, then winced.  “What the hell did you do to me?”  He sat up and I saw the bloody trail of my nails down his back.

I laughed.  “A little redecorating.”

“In the heat of the moment, it wasn’t so bad. But now  . . . shit.”

“Oh, I’ve done worse.  A warlord shouldn’t mind a few injuries.”

“Were we fighting? I thought we were taking aruna.”

“Sometimes I wonder what the difference is.  Lie down,” I said.

He settled on his stomach, propped his chin up with one hand and smoked with the other. He presented quite a nice rear view: strong back with the tattoo of the hindquarters and lashing tail of the tiger, the high smooth curves of his rear, unmarked, and somehow innocent; muscular thighs, long calves.  I leaned over him and hovered my fingers up and down my bloody handiwork. He shuddered, then seemed to relax into it as I healed him.

“Do you always shred your lover’s backs?” Terzian grunted.  “I never saw any blood decorating Pell’s shirt.”

“No, just . . .well I got carried away.  You should take it as a compliment.”

“It was good, wasn’t it?”  He turned to look up at me, a little smile rising to his lips.  He stuck the cigarette in an ashtray where the smoke curled harshly towards the ceiling. Then he turned and took me in his arms.  “Cal, we could be great together.”

“I bet you say that to everyhar you bed,” I said lightly.

“I’ve never said it before,” was the deadly serious reply.

Again, my stomach did a slow roll.

“Now that you mention it, I could eat,” I said, changing topic.

“When will you give me something, just . . . something?”

“What do you mean?”  I looked up at him through my eyelashes, in tease mode, to keep it light.

“Is it always games with you, Cal?  Look, I’m baring my heart and it’s . . . hard for me, so you might be at least a little . . . responsive.”

“Terzian, this is all so sudden.  I don’t know what to say.”  Again the light tone keeping him at bay.

“Are you chesna with Pell?  Is that it?”

Chesna, were we?  I’d never thought about it and how strange was that?  We were comfortable, close.  I didn’t want to analyze anything just now, not while I was being held naked in Terzian’s arms, not when I was creamy with his essence, and still throbbing for him.  “We’ve never made any formal declaration to each other,” I replied.

“Good.  I intend to keep it that way,” he said.  I bristled a little at that.  Would he bind me in chains of gold?  Was that where this was going?

He got up heavily, and went to the outer room, brought back the tray of food. While I sampled some cakes, sweet and creamy on the tongue, he went into the bathroom and returned with a small jar of salve that I obligingly smeared on the now mostly healed gouges. They were still red and looked like they smarted. “You just bring out the predator in me,” I joked.  “It must be that tattoo.”

“You’re a piece of work, Cal,” Terzian said, with a roll of the eyes.

“Mmm, I know.”

“A lovely, incredibly sexy piece of work.  I want you with me, Cal. I think you’d like it here. No need to work so hard on the farm like you’re doing. You wouldn’t have any duties or obligations.”

“Not even taking aruna with you?”

“I would hope that wasn’t a duty.”  With one hand, he threaded his fingers through my hair, pulled me to him to share breath. Movement of lips against mine. “Don’t you like it with me?”

“You are . . .,” I paused.  “How should I put it – you are like racing towards a cliff on a fast horse, with the exhilaration of wind in the face and no thought of what happens next.”

“I assure you, you have nothing to fear from me.  I would take good care of you.”  He stared at me, owning me with his gaze, and commenced kissing my face.   His mouth drifted lower. His legs twined around mine, pulling me closer.  I could feel him reawakening.

“Are you always this insatiable?” I sighed, raising my chin so he could suck on my neck. His mouth sent a frisson of joy down my center.

“Making the most of the opportunity,” he said.  “I’ve thought about it for a while now.”

“Why did it take you so long?” I asked. “I get the feeling it’s out of character for you to deny yourself something you want for any length of time.”  I was probing at the edges of the things that bothered me.

“Not sure,” he said.  “Other things concern me.  Usually I take aruna as a matter of release or procreation.  Nothing more.  With you, I wanted it to be more.”

“I can’t imagine what I did to deserve this honor,” I said as sarcastically as I could.  He was really beginning to scare me.  A routine tumble I could handle, not this . . . admiration.  He picked up a strand of my hair, pulling it through his fingers, watching it in the light.  My hair was getting long, too much like a Varrish progenitor. Maybe it was time to cut it short – like a Varrish warrior.

“Cal, you’re special.  I don’t know why exactly but there is something irresistible about you.  It’s the way your eyelids lower when you’re turned on, the way you lick your lips. It’s the length of your neck, the sheen of your skin in the sun, the shape and color of your eyes – same as that flower I gave you earlier.  I’ve only seen that color once before – in a girl’s eyes.  Before it all changed.”

An opening.  I took it.  “A girl? Were you in love with her, Terzian?”

“It was long ago,” he sighed.  “I barely remember.”

“You are a romantic.  I had no idea,” I laughed.

“A romantic!” he snorted.  “I’m the farthest thing from a romantic.  I’m a realist.”

“Not when you attempt to woo me like you’re doing.”  I leaned down, shared breath with him, gently.  His lips seemed to soften under mine.  He sighed.  Ever one to poke into old wounds, I whispered seductively, “Tell me about her, Terzian.”

“There’s nothing to tell.  It’s long over,” he growled.  “I was a teenager, naive and misguided. The Varrs came and took me from my home, dragged me off, enlightened me.  She’s a pile of cinders somewhere.”

I stroked along the raised white scar on his inner arm.  “And yet somehow for you she lingers in my eyes. Is it so possible to completely forget all that we were, Terzian?”

“I’ve nearly done so.  We’ve come through the apocalypse – better, stronger.  There’s no looking back.”

To me, it seemed my whole life consisted of a longing to look back and a fear of doing so.  Like trying desperately to peer through a wall that I had erected myself – brick of misdeeds and mortar of regret.  The Uigenna, my inception, Wraxilan, Zack.  I said, “All the beginnings were rough back then, weren’t they?  So tell me about your inception. Who initiated you into the delights of aruna?”

“Delights.” He shook his head. “It was the worst possible experience. Like being gang-raped by devils. Those who weren’t tough enough, died.  And that was not a few.  He said I was one of the tough ones. Fortunately. ”

I reached over him to the ashtray and got one of his cigarettes, lit it.  Settled back comfortably against his many pillows.

“As for who initiated me, you wouldn’t know him,” Terzian said, a twist of distaste about his mouth. “It was a har named Ponclast.  You said you’d experienced aruna two steps away from pelki?  Mine wasn’t even so much as two steps away.   Even the memory is intimidating.  I don’t want to talk about it.”  His face closed down abruptly, like an iron gate slamming. Suddenly I had a flash of insight as to why he preferred ouana.  It made sense.

He reached for my cigarette, took it from my lips, and put it between his.  “What about your inception, Cal?  You said it was brutal – like mine.” I could tell he was turning the focus away from himself.  But unlike him, I love to indulge in my past terrors by taking  a nip of them every so often.

“In those days, it was like you said.  Inception in a basement, arm cut with a bit of glass. I held out my scarred arm to him.  No sense of ritual.  All brutality.  It’s no wonder we all came out of it a little warped.” I looked at his handsome face, planes and angles, surrounded by a mane of rough-cut yellow hair, blue eyes staring hungrily into mine.  “And yet I still remember my first, almost as an obsession. You remind me of him – a little.”

His face relaxed into a smile.  “That gives me some hope.”

“It shouldn’t.”

“Still, it does. Come here, Cal.”  He set the cigarette aside, reached for the back of my head and pulled me to his mouth.

This time it was slow, like waves surging against the beach.  A tide steadily roaring in, building crescendo, until it filled up the universe.  The night deepened, candles guttered, and still he held me enthralled.  My last waking thought was of Pell, riding away from me on a black pony, casting long shadows on a stark, crimson landscape.

Chapter 3

There was a weight on my chest. Panicked, I struggled upward through a haze of uneasy dreaming. Slightly sticky fingers pried one of my eyes open and I looked into a small, bony face surrounded by a nimbus of fine, dark hair. Wide eyes gazed intently at me. They blinked.

“What the hell?”  I jerked upright, knocking the back of my head on the headboard.

The creature smacked its lips. “More cake?” it queried.

I heard Terzian’s indulgent chuckle. The covers shifted as he sat up. “Come here, little Swift.”  He reached over and pulled the little beastie off me and settled him comfortably in his lap.

The child turned and pointed towards me with a slim finger. “Who’s dat?”

“That is Cal,” Terzian said.  “You know him, Swift.”

“Cow,” Swift said.

I laughed nervously as I pulled the sheet up to my chest, trying to cover my naked body. “How’d he get in here?”

“I expect he walked. Isn’t he beautiful?”  Terzian’s expression was one of pure pride. He licked his finger and wiped clean a smear of icing from the side of the child’s mouth.  The action was surprisingly maternal and I felt an unreasoning sense of panic.

“Isn’t anyone taking charge of him? Where’s Cobweb?”

“Cobbeb,” Swift affirmed and pointed in the direction of Pell’s and my room. Was Cobweb still in there with Pell?  If so, I didn’t like it, not one bit.

“He’s very smart,” Terzian said indulgently, jiggling him up and down.  “And only eight months old. I can’t get over how quickly they mature.”

“I can’t get over feeling that the whole thing’s unnatural,” I said grumpily, rubbing the back of my head. “Like hatching a lizard.”

“Not a lizard, and not a human, something new altogether,” Terzian said. “I watched him born as a pearl. It’s amazing.  Here he is, the future.  Right here, from my loins.  The future of Wraeththu.”

“I guess so.”  I shrugged.  Future or not, it didn’t concern me.

“Haven’t you thought of what it would be like . . .”

“No,” I said abruptly.

Terzian chuckled. “You haven’t wrapped your head around that one yet, have you, Cal?  That you could host a harling just like Swift.  That you could create life?”

“That’s Cow,” Swift said, his bright eyes focussed on me with a preternatural intelligence.  It was most unnerving.

“I’m not sure it’s appropriate to have him in here when we’re in bed together,” I said, chewing on a strand of my hair.

“He’s too young to understand,” Terzian replied.

“Still.”

He laughed. “I never imagined you prudish, Cal. All right, if it makes you uncomfortable.”  He reached over to the tray of food on the nightstand, picked up the last pastry and held it out. “Swift, take this and go downstairs now.”

“Cake,” Swift agreed happily.  He took the pastry in his little fist, immediately plunged half of it into his mouth.   He smiled blissfully at Terzian, scattering crumbs.

“Come on, son.” Terzian got out of bed, stark naked, looking lean and gorgeous.  He went to a drawer and donned some black drawstring pants, then he hoisted Swift up on his hip.  I heard him say in that sexy rumble, “Let’s go see Yarrow in the kitchen, shall we?”  They left the bedroom and I heard the outer door open and then click shut.

I let out a long whoosh of breath, put a hand to my head, feeling fuzzed and heavy.  Was it the alcohol I’d drunk last night or the nearly all night roon session?  Mmmm, but that had been glorious. Still tingling with a satisfied afterglow, I relived memories of the positions we’d tried, the sensations he’d elicited, and became nearly drunk again with desire.  I had to give it to him, we had been good together.  He had been remarkably pliable to my whims, although he had not relinquished his role as ouana, not once.

When I attempted to examine my feelings, I realized they were complicated and contradictory.  I longed for his return but was relieved at his absence. I was physically sore but ached for more rooning.  I felt used, sassy, hollow, and panicky, all at once.  The sudden reminder of my vulnerability in the form of his son Swift didn’t help my equilibrium.  Maybe a long, hot soak was called for and then a large breakfast, some of the hair of the dog, and then maybe more of him rutting inside me until we both got it out of our systems.  I stretched, wriggled my bare arse in the luxury of silk sheets, inhaling his fragrance like a cat that had found a new favorite place to sleep. As fickle as one too. What was Pell doing?  Did he miss me at all while wound in Cobweb’s skinny embrace?

Sliding out of the bed, scratching my butt and looking around, I noticed the corner of an old magazine sticking out from under the bed. Curious, I crouched down, saw a small pile of them, and pulled the top one out.  An old human porn mag just like I remembered from my oversexed early teens.  I flipped through it.  Human women, mostly naked, all very skinny with large pouting lips and long legs, dressed in bizarre combinations of leather and feathers, wild makeup and spiky hair, spanking each other’s bottoms red or brandishing whips. Not my thing at all. Some of them were being nailed by equally fiendishly dressed men. They were more enticing, I’ll admit, looking very harish with their kohl-rimmed eyes, slim muscled bodies. I stared at the primitive, blood-swollen organs.  It was a shock to remember that I once had looked like that.

There was a wooden case with metal clasps shoved far underneath the bed.  Something wasn’t right about it.  When I tried to look more closely, my eyes blurred and it became veiled in shadow. I set the magazine aside and crawled under the bed, scattering dust bunnies and hearing whispered cries in my ears.  Undeterred, I dragged it out, flipped open the clasps; then sat back on my heels in surprise and some consternation. It was filled with strange things: crystals, candles, a length of chalk, dried flowers, vials full of glistening fluids.  There was a smell of wax, burning wood, and heavy spices that made my nose wrinkle. I picked up a vial full of a dark red, viscous substance.  Blood? His?  Another one held strands of what looked suspiciously like my hair.  I could feel a cloud emanating from the objects, stealing into my chest with cold fingers and at the same time a surge of desire throbbed between my legs.  Dark magic.  A laugh welled up in my throat, fluttery, crazy, out-of-control.  I heard the door open in the sitting room and my heart hammered in my chest.  Quickly I shut the case, pushed it back under the bed, and kicked the magazines in after it.  I was just standing up, feeling light-headed from uneven blood distribution, when he came into the room.

“What are you doing?” he asked quietly.   He was wearing nothing but the drawstring trousers, that snarling tiger brilliantly inked on his chest, hair tousled, and smoking a cigarette.  He looked hot and desirable and very aggressive.

I got my dancing pulse under control, reached down and pulled out a magazine, held it out defiantly.  “I was just checking out your porn collection.  Interesting kink you have there, Terzian.  Human females? I had no idea.”

He came up close; my loins tingled.  Gently he took it from me, set it on the bedside table, stuck the cigarette in the ash tray.  “Every once in a while we catch one,” he purred.  “Have you ever seen the effect first-hand of Wraeththu semen on a human?”

Involuntarily, I shuddered.  Took a step back.  He laughed.  “I am just joking with you, Cal.  Testing how tough you really are. You said you studied with the Kakkahaar.  They know all about that.”

“Yes,” I said quietly.  “I’ve seen the effect.  It’s not something I care to dwell upon.”

He took me into his arms, placed a lingering kiss on my lips. “This place is different; it’s safe. I made it so. Here, we can be civilized again.  In the future, once we have quelled the barbarism, everywhere will be controlled like this. You’ll see.  It will be better than Saltrock. You could be part of it, Cal.”

“Maybe,” I said, thinking of the evidence for barbarism under the bed and in the smoking ruins I had passed.  “A new order, eh Terzian?  What if I prefer the messiness of chaos?”

“All the messiness and chaos, all your contradictions, they all disappear when I’m inside you, don’t they, Cal?”

“I’ll grant that life becomes very straightforward and simple then.”  My head was becoming foggy again, my longing for him quickening. Was it magic he was practicing, or just his own natural charisma? I imagined it was both, but it didn’t matter.

He smiled, fell with me onto the bed, and we shared breath deeply and for a long time until I was swimming in him.  I could feel him straining hard against the cloth, pressing against me.  I pulled the tie on his pants and opened them, helped him wriggle out, then lay back, spreading my legs with a sigh, awaiting his lance.  A slow piercing this time. It felt like welcoming him back to where he should be, deep within my folds.   He moved deliberately, a grinding, writhing motion. We were at it a long time until I couldn’t stand it anymore and I cried and clawed at his buttocks, shoving him in deep. The muddiness in my head increased, making me giddy and brain-dead with pleasure. Was he doing that?  Or was I losing myself? It was like being drugged somehow.  I felt lazy, uncaring about anything except getting him inside me deeper.

Then I was soaring towards a dark thundercloud.  I plunged into it with a soft hiss, feeling the air around me evaporate with a tingle against hot skin. “Terzian,” I moaned. “You’re flying me high.”

“I’m flying with you,” he murmured, ecstatic. I opened my eyes, looked into his yearning, pleasure-wracked face.  The soaring became rapture that swelled my stomach, reaching a culmination like an explosion of electric blue feathers.  Afterwards, we lay panting, still entwined like snakes, still moving to grind out the final sparks.  He held my chin and kissed me again.  “I love you,” he said.

It was like dropping a stone into a pond, watching the ripples spread out.  I was still bemused by pleasure, ignoring the low wail that had begun somewhere deep inside. What do you say to somehar who tells you he loves you when he has a box of dark magic under the bed and a hoard of well-armed fanatics at his call? I said, “I’m flattered.”

“I want you to be more than just flattered,” Terzian said with a growling sigh.

“I try to avoid complications.  The heart is a cruel master,” I said. Yes, I’m a liar, but some things it doesn’t pay to lie about.

“Cruel indeed.”  His mouth quirked.  He rolled free of me, got up and walked over to the glass-paned doors to the balcony and threw them open.   Beckoned.   “Come Cal.”

I followed, looked out with him over the white railing down the slope to the stately buildings below, the manicured viridian of the lawns, a riot of flowers along the borders, movement of a few hara working in the gardens.  Beyond were the ponds and stables, and beyond that a dense forest stretching to the horizon.  Everything clean, spotless, not a leaf out of place.  He said, “You could be master of all this with me.”

“Tempting. In the old days they’d call you Satan.”

He moved my hair out of the way, nuzzled my neck.  “Whatever you want to call it. When have you had a better offer?  You were a ragged vagabond when you arrived.”

“Not so ragged,” I retorted.  But I had to admit that I was thinking about it.  What good was trying to find Immanion?  Maybe it didn’t even exist.  Perhaps Pell and I were being idealistic fools to try to go there.  Why not settle here with him?  It certainly would have its rewards.

I turned and gave him a dazzling smile, watched him melt under its intensity.  “And you would make me your consort? Officially? You would declare it in front of all your household?”

“Without question.”

“What about Cobweb?  Would you throw him to the wolves?”

“No.  He’s the hostling of my child.  He would stay as well.”

“What if I said, it’s him or me?”

Terzian rolled his eyes. “Are you going to start dictating to me?  Cobweb tries doing it.  You see how far it gets him.”

It was actually reassuring that he wouldn’t throw Cobweb out on my whim.  Then I asked the question at the heart of my disquiet. “What about Pell?”

Terzian pondered for a moment.  The silence spoke volumes.  “I am sure we can find a place for him here,” he finally said.

I could tell Terzian didn’t want competition, but he wouldn’t prevent me from indulging myself with others once in a while.  Wraeththu mantra.   Yet I knew in my heart I’d have to give Pell up.  That was the devil’s bargain.   I told myself that Pell and I, we’d made no promises to each other.  He knew the score.

“Well, Cal, what’s your answer?”

Flutter of panic.  How could I put him off?

In the distance, I saw a trio of his black-clad horsemen cantering up the drive, bristling with implements of war, and realized anew how careful I needed to be.  I didn’t know how Terzian would react if I turned him down.  Not really.  We could be kept prisoner here.  He might make me a kanene sex slave. Worse, he might take his disappointment out on Pell.  Sudden fear made me crafty.  I said, “I admit that I’m tempted, Terzian.  But you must give me some time to think about it.”

“Don’t think too long.”

I ran a hand along the smooth mounds of his pectoral muscles. He liked having his nipples pinched.  I played with them and heard his growl of approval. Then we were sharing breath. It seemed as if we might be on the verge of another romp when there was a knock on the door.

“Come,” Terzian barked.  He turned, with me still leaning on his shoulder in all my naked glory, like an ornament.

Ithiel entered. He bore a certain resemblance to Terzian, same build and hair color. His shrewd eyes took us in with a quick flick before focusing on Terzian’s face.  Terzian betrayed no unease.  I imagined Ithiel had seen it all before, probably as a participant.  Ithiel said, “The patrol has a report to make. Are you free, Terzian?”

“Give me a moment to dress,” Terzian replied.  He chucked a finger under my chin.  “Will you wait for me?”

I stretched and yawned, enjoying the fact that Ithiel was sneaking glances at me.  “Actually, I’d thought of going to get some breakfast and then having a nice, hot bath.”

“This shouldn’t take much time,” Terzian replied, his expression soft and indulgent when he looked at me. “Go ahead and draw the bath.  I’ll have some breakfast sent up.”  We shared breath conspicuously while Ithiel fidgeted.  Terzian went into the bathroom; we could hear water running in the sink.  I lay decorously on the bed, my head propped on one hand, inviting Ithiel’s gaze.

“Ever had a threesome, Ithiel?” I asked slyly.  I ran my hand down my chest and across my belly, stopping short of the silky fur between my legs.

His first expression told me he found it a pleasant idea.  Then he scowled.  “I wouldn’t get too comfortable if I were you,” he said.

“Why not?  He wants to make me his consort.”

Ithiel clicked his tongue, his glance strayed towards the door.

“You don’t approve?” I asked.

“Not my place . . .” Ithiel began but then Terzian emerged from the bathroom, now wearing his tight-seated leather pants and a sleeveless leather vest revealing the curve of his upper arms; his hair was combed back with water to lie slick against his head.   By the Aghama, he looked fine. I licked my lips.  So did Ithiel.

Terzian leaned down, kissed me again, and stroked the length of my body, his hand coming to rest possessively on a hip.  “I’ll be back soon,” he promised.

“I’ll be waiting,” I said, giving him my best smile.  He embraced me again. Over his shoulder, I winked at Ithiel who looked rather non-plussed.

Terzian pulled on some boots and he and Ithiel left. I heard the door click shut.  Time to take control of the situation – quickly. I flew to the outer door, turned the lock. Came back, yanked the box out from under the bed, seized the vial with my hair in it and the one filled with blood and darted into the bathroom, which was a large affair of white and blue tile.  I poured the blood and hair into the toilet and flushed it.  Looking around, I found his hairbrush, pulled out a clump of blond hair and stuffed it back in the vial.   Frantically pulling open drawers and sifting through the contents, I found a razor, nicked my finger, then squeezed out some of my own blood into the vial, recorked it.  Turning on the bathwater, I let it run while I carried both vials back and crawled under the bed where, lying flat and cramped, I chalked a pentagram and sprinkled some of my blood in the center. Whatever magic might be at work, this was my opportunity to reverse it.  Sparks materialized in the air as I waved my hands and said some words, unbinding the previous spell. There was a sudden puff of green smoke that scared the crap out of me. I didn’t have the luxury of time that these things required to do properly, so I had no idea if it would work.  I murmured a spell that would allow me to gain power over him, sway him to my desires, and keep him pliant, unable to act.   I didn’t think, given his current infatuation, that it would take much.

The seconds were ticking away; sweat trickled under my arms while I worked.  From the bathroom, I could hear the water plunging.   I was just finishing the spell, when there was a knock on the door.  “Just a minute!”

Frantically finishing, I crawled out from under the bed, placed the vials into the case, shoved it back under the bed so that it covered the pentagram, threw the magazines after it.  Then, brushing dust from my hair, I grabbed a soft green robe out of his wardrobe, loosely knotted it around my waist and went to open the door.  A house hara stood there holding a large tray filled with covered dishes and a coffee pot.  He had long, brown hair tied back in a ponytail and a cute, upturned nose.

“Come in,” I said, “Please set it on the nightstand.

He entered the main bedroom. “What smells so funny?” he asked.

Damn. Dark magic residue. “Umm, we burned incense. Better open the windows.”

While he was doing that, I became aware of a change in the sound of the running water and saw a trickle crawling along the floor from the bathroom.  “Shit!” I dashed in to turn off the tap on the overfull tub.  The water was steaming gently.  Reaching into it, I pulled the plug to lower the level, getting the sleeve of the robe wet in the process. When I came back into the other room, the har was making the bed.  He leaned over and picked up one of the magazines, then started to follow the trail of them under the bed.  I didn’t want him poking around under there.

“No need to clean, we’ll just mess it up again,” I called.   The har looked at me, hesitated, still restacking the magazines.  I approached slowly, allowing the robe to open up and come off one shoulder.  “Kexel, isn’t it?”

He nodded and stood up, trying to look everywhere but at me.

“Could you help me with the bath?” I purred.  “It overflowed.  I need some towels to wipe up the floor.”

“Um, yes,” he said, uncertainly.  He went into the bathroom, opened a cupboard and pulled out a towel.  I watched him mop up.

When he was done, I shrugged out of the robe, let it drop on a chair.  “Would you care to join me?  I’m sure Terzian wouldn’t mind.”  I fingered my throat, smiling at him, and giggled when he went completely red.

“Th-thank you,” Kexel stammered. “But Terzian wants lunch served to his patrol. If you don’t need anything else, tiahaar, I’ll be going.”

“Begone then,” I said, making a flicking motion at him. He retreated, to the sound of my laughter.

I could get used to being Terzian’s consort. Too easily perhaps, I’d become a monster.  Power was a heady aphrodisiac.

With a great sigh, I climbed into the tub, slid into the steaming water, laid my head back, and closed my eyes.   Oh Cal, what have you gotten yourself into?  This could be touch and go.  It made me angry that he’d tried to manipulate me.   I was nothing if not my own master and, by the Aghama, no one was going to play magic games with my head.  If I stayed with him, it would be my choice.    The whole thing would be easier if I could figure out what the hell I wanted.

The water felt good, soothing to tired muscles.  I listened to birds whistling under the eaves outside.   Remembered a hot soak in a tub in a Kakkahaar tent with Pell.  Beautiful, beautiful Pell.  Remembered the silky feel of his skin, the plumpness of his lips under mine, the ecstasy of rocking inside him while the water sloshed gently around us, breathing in his heady essence of sandalwood and rose, knowing that he was giving himself to me sweetly and unselfconsciously.  Those wide, luminous eyes mirrored my soul. With him there was no posing.  No lies.

I should get out of this tub, stop behaving like a vain, spoiled child, and go to him, kick out Cobweb, and take him in my arms, make him mine again. Hold him to my heart.  Pell. Pell. A tear made its way out from under an eyelid and slid hotly down my cheek.

Chapter 4

I was sinking.  A tiny hand stroked the top of my head.  I tried to turn to look, but the hand became an iron fist that grasped my hair and shoved my head under the water.  I struggled, flailed, splashed.  Fighting free for a moment, I gasped for air before being shoved under again.  Bubbles erupted furiously from my mouth.  Looking down, I noticed my belly had purple bruising all over it and felt strange: hard and swollen like a watermelon. Then, it wriggled as if harboring a large eel.  I screamed and inhaled a lungful of water. Choked.  Above me there was a face with eyes like searchlights in the fog.  It plunged down into the water to look at me: a small, bony face amidst a cloud of dark hair that floated like seaweed.  It smiled, revealing tiny shark’s teeth.

I jerked upright with a splash.  Yelling and flailing about wildly, I grabbed the rim of the tub and remembered where I was. I looked around at the bathroom bathed in morning light.  A dream. It had been a fucking dream. That’s all.  My head fell back against the porcelain as I put my hand on my chest, trying to slow the beating. The water had grown cold.

What time was it?  Where had Terzian gone?  I ran more hot water until I warmed up, then got out, wrapped myself in the towel, wandered out into the bedroom that had become a stage for whatever games I was enacting with the master of the house.  I pitched face forward into the bed, burrowed under the covers, and passed out.

Waking. Groggy. Someone was gently shaking my arm.  It was Kexel hovering over me with an armload of something purple.  “Terzian bids you dress and come down to dinner.”

“Does he now?”  I threw an arm over my face. “What if I just ignore him and go back to sleep?”

“No, no, you can’t do that,” Kexel protested. He began shaking me harder.  I opened the covers as if I were getting up, but instead grabbed his arm and hauled him into bed with me.

“What are you doing?” he cried.

I rolled on top of him, feeling utterly wicked. Looked into surprised, brown eyes. “I’ve had to be soume all night, Kexel. I think I’d like to be ouana for a change. What do you think about that? Hmmmm?”  I rocked my naked loins against him.

“No, please, tiahaar!”  He sounded genuinely frightened.

“Why, what would he do to you?”

“You don’t understand.  Nohar disobeys him. It’s the way he looks at you.  His air of command.”

“But what would happen if you said, ‘Fuck off Terzian. I’m not following your orders?’”

“He m-m-might demote me.  Put me to work out in the fields or send me out with the next patrol.  I’m not suited for that kind of work.”

“Nothing worse than that?” I queried.

“If it was a really bad offense, he could banish me.  Or have me beaten . . . or shot.”

“Has that happened before?”

“Yes, but not often.  No one wants to disobey him, tiahaar.  We owe everything to Terzian.  He takes care of us.”

“What’s the worst he has done?”  I leaned close so that my lips were inches from his.  He froze as if looking at a viper.

“There are rumors,” he whispered.  “Of some hara who have been sent north and subjected to terrible poisons and ritualized pelki.”

“I guess that’s not worth a tumble with me then, is it?”

He shook his head vigorously.

“You won’t know if it’s worth the risk unless you try it.”  I grinned at him, and rolled off to the side, landing in the pillows.

Kexel’s face relaxed into a smile. “He wouldn’t do anything so drastic to me for such an offense, but I might get a reprimand. You are beautiful, tiahaar, and very tempting, but I value my position here too highly.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t get you in trouble.” I sat up and dramatically swept back a cascade of silky blond hair off my face.  “Very well.  Is that what he wants me to wear?”

“Yes, I hope you didn’t wrinkle it.” Kexel wriggled upright, attempted to smooth out the material.

“Let me see.”  I took the garments from him, stood, and held them up to myself.  There was a short purple tunic with one sleeve and a wide scarf of soft suede strung with jiggling coins.

“He said to pick something to go with your eyes.  It does. Perfectly.  I’ve always had a good sense of color,” Kexel said with a giggle.  “Wait ‘til you see it on.  It’s very sexy.”

I had a sudden thought.  “Kexel, do you have access to cosmetics, jewelry?”

“Sure.”

“Can you make me look like this?”   I reached down under the bed, pulled out one of the magazines, and flipped through it until I found a suitably exotic looking woman.

Kexel laughed.  “I gather you’ve figured out his weakness.”

“Let’s hope so,” I replied.

Kexel now appeared to be in his element.  “You’ll be stunning,” he promised.

***
Nearly an hour later I was examining our combined efforts in a looking glass.  The tunic reached mid-thigh, with sides slit even higher, and was cut on the diagonal baring one arm and half my chest so that one nipple was revealed.  Under it, I wore thigh-high boots and nothing else.  The wide suede scarf wrapped around my waist, angled over one hip, and the coins on the long fringe jingled as I moved. Kexel repainted my nails, decorated my hands with rings and my wrists in brass bracelets. I wore dangling gold earrings. He had plaited skinny ribbons into several long thin braids behind my ears.  The rest of my hair, brushed until it shone, hung loose down my back.  He’d painted my face, outlining my eyes in dark blue kohl extending the line to the far inner corner of my eyes, drawing a tiny triangle at the outer corners and brushing purple shadow on the lids.  It made my eyes look huge and their color startling.

“You have such bedroom eyes,” Kexel had said, approvingly.  He painted my caste symbols on the center of my forehead and one cheek and rouged my cheekbones so they appeared becomingly high and prominent.  Last, he took a brush and painted my lips scarlet.  “Press them together,” he said.  Then he stood back.  “Lovely, but for one more thing . . .” and he took another brush, dipped it in the rouge powder and dabbed at my exposed nipple with it.

“Not bad,” I said, preening in the mirror.

“Not bad,” Kexel said, somewhat breathlessly, “it’s devastating. Once he sees this, I expect you will be locked up in here for a week.”

“If I’m lucky,” I said, while reflecting that it’s always good to use whatever power you have, which in my current situation was very little. “Thank you, Kexel.”  I tilted up his chin, leaned down, and brushed a kiss across his lips.

“Oh, don’t, you’ll ruin your paint,” he said.  But his eyes were glowing.  “You’d better go down now.  He’ll be impatient that you’re holding up dinner.  You should have been down there more than a half hour ago.”

“It won’t hurt to make him wait,” I replied airily.  “Anticipation is good for the appetite.”

“Yeah, but anger isn’t. I’ll tell him you’re on your way,” Kexel said.  Picking up the tray of cosmetics and rejected jewelry, he left, giving me a wink just before he shut the door.

I looked at the exotic creature in the mirror, thinking how much I’d like to show this to Pell. I wanted to hear him say, ‘Oh Cal, really, you’re such a slut,’ and then grab me and share breath and end up tumbling together on the bed like a couple of inebriated puppies.  We hadn’t been separated for this long since he was incepted.  Suddenly, I missed him. Missed the breathy sound of his voice, the way he would tilt his head when considering a question, his wise counsel and starry-eyed trust in me, and his beauty that smote me every time I looked at him. I was a better har with him at my side, and at that moment I knew that I couldn’t give him up. The thing was how to extricate myself from the situation I’d gotten myself into.

I went to the open balcony doors and looked out. The afternoon wore long shadows in the garden.  I felt psychically damaged somehow. There was a vague throbbing in my temples.  I watched a har working at pulling weeds.  Everything was ordered here.  So different from the chaos I knew they inflicted on others. Staying here would mean the insulating safety and rewards of a locked harem, with me as a painted courtesan. Maybe that was acceptable for others like Cobweb. But for me, well, I had never played it safe.

All right.  Time to face the music.

As I entered the dining room, Terzian’s look of annoyance melted into a very satisfying moment of open-mouthed appreciation.   He stood up.

“I wondered what was taking you so long,” he said.

“I had to get myself fixed up. Was it worth it?”  A coy tilt to the head, a quirk of the lips.

“Most definitely.”

His smile was openly lustful. I went to him and he looked me over as he stroked exposed flesh and pinched my rosy nipple. Then he gathered me into his arms, and we shared breath until we were both dizzy.  He slid a hand up my thigh and gripped one cheek of my bare arse, pulling on it slightly.  It made me ache for him.

“If you keep that up, we’ll have to dispense with dinner and go directly to dessert,” I said.

“Maybe I should take you on the table again.”

“If you’re going to make a habit of that, you should at least keep some pillows about.  My rear still hasn’t recovered from last time.”  I was keeping it light.

“Good.  I want you sore, so you know who it was had you last.”  Then we were sharing breath again.

Several hara bustled through the door carrying covered dishes and averting their eyes from our indiscretion.  They set out the food, poured us copious amounts of sheh and left.  We sat across from each other.  Terzian eyed me hungrily in between bites of food.  I played it for all it was worth, giving him sideways glances, sucking juice off my fingers, running my tongue slowly over my lips, and trying not to get drunk.

When dinner was over, we could barely get up the stairs fast enough.  The door slammed and he had his arms about me, devouring my mouth.  I pushed him away laughing and undressed him, kissing each part as it was revealed while he watched and purred appreciation. I pulled off my boots. He knelt and kissed up my inner thighs. Laughing, we fell on the bed. He began torturing the exposed nipple with his tongue, murmuring something about how it had been tempting him all through dinner. He slid his hand up my tunic fingering my folds.  I writhed and moaned like a good little whore.

“You are absolutely breath-taking,” Terzian said as he came back up to gaze into my eyes.  He traced a finger along my jaw. “Insolent little Cal, I think you have bewitched me.  I swear, I don’t know what I’ll do . . .” He stopped, looked at me, shook his head.

“What?”  I teased the ends of some hair like a paintbrush along his lips.

“Do you believe in fate?  That we have a destiny – that your whole life can be spent waiting for someone and you don’t even know it until you see him, and then, it’s as if you’ve been holding your breath all that time?”

The vision came back to me, reinvented and timeless: Pell, now in my image fully har, a storm-haired, dewy-eyed beauty, standing in the middle of that barren dirt road, looking at me with expectation.  “Yes,” I said.  “I believe in fate.” I rolled on top of him, put my fingers on his lips.  “Don’t talk, Terzian. I’m not worthy of this kind of affection.  I left my last lover to die.”

“So did I,” he replied.

We shared breath.  Bare branches scraped across a winter sky.  I saw a willowy teenage girl with yellow hair and violet eyes.  A wind came up, blowing the hair wildly about her face. She held out her hands imploringly, and then exploded into screaming fragments of black paper that swirled aloft over fields of smoking wheat.  I felt his grief, still there.  I rocked him, licked the salt water from his cheeks. Pressed my fingers to his temples, using whatever healing power I had.  ‘Forget,’ I soothed.

I understood now. It was making me feel guilty, getting me mixed up in the head.  Knowing what I knew, could I stay with him?  Maybe Pell and I, we could work something out.  Trysts in the fields, in the inns.  We must not be selfish with each other. Wraeththu mantra.  Terzian couldn’t object to my having another lover.  Could he?

We were blending our thoughts, making it difficult for me to shield mine.  He was thrusting up against me, primed for me.  I sat up, unknotted the suede scarf about my waist, pulled it slowly away, and lifted my tunic off over my head.  Then carefully, one by one, took off the jingling bracelets and set them on the nightstand.

He was watching me – a look of lust and something else, something wistful.  Eyes glittered sky-pale in their fringe of black. He was unusually passive.  I sat back on his thighs and palmed his ouana-lim, stroked the multi-colored, velvety petals, slicking them with the emerging dew drops, feeling him jump and pulse in my hand. Then I reached between his legs and inserted a finger.  He was wet.

“No,” he said.

“Why deny your nature, Terzian?  You’re the champion of Wraeththu, the new world order.  Think. You are female as well as male.”  Two fingers slid inward searching for the first sikra . . . He made a strange gasping sound, arched his back.  Ah, found it.

“It’s not the way of the Varrs,” he said angrily as he pushed my hand away.

“Who makes the rules, Terzian?  You?”

“Yes.  Deal with it.”

“If I stay with you, I must always be soume?”

“Not with others,” he said.

“With you.”

“Yes.”

“And I must be a breeder?”

“You’ll be more than that. You will be my consort.  I want a son by you, Cal.  Don’t you see?  He would be as perfect as Swift.”

“What if I don’t want it?”

“All in good time. Let’s not talk about that now, shall we?  I need you desperately.”

“Then, we’ll compromise,” I replied as I squatted over him and lowered myself right onto his ouana-lim, piercing myself with a rush of exquisite, delirious pain.  We both cried out in concert.  He arched his back up and grasped my hips.  I leaned forward and rode him at a gallop.   He thrust up into me, chanting my name, ‘Cal. Cal.’ Our flesh met in juicy, repetitious fervor.

He was mesmerizing me again.  I was lost to images: roots growing wildly, trees leafing out in spring, green everywhere, and then sprays of apple blossoms floating earthward in the wind, birds chasing each other in dizzying patterns. So good, so good; it felt so good.  He reached up and took a nipple between his fingers, twisting until it was painful.  The blood pounded in my nipple, my ears, my loins.  I wanted him deeper until it hurt, until I retched with wanting it.  Terzian.

A feeling of sudden reckless power.  Bloodlust.  Charging through a green meadow on a great black war-horse, chasing down ragged men.  There was a small girl running with a grey animal clutched in her arms. She jerked, fell to the ground with a blossom of red across her back. The animal ran off yowling. There was shouting, fire, banners breaking with a snap in the wind, swirls of black birds surging over fields of corpses. A terrible stench.  Was this my future, to preside over this? No! I didn’t want it. The feeling of power dissipated like mist in the sun; in its place grew desperation.

There was another voice  – it was Cobweb’s, hissing in my ears.  “Calanthe, you think you can escape, but you can’t.  You are his now.”

“Terzian,” I gasped, truly frightened now. “Let me go!”

Terzian twisted his body around so that we were lying side by side.  Then he rolled on top and thrust into me, holding me down as blackness floated like a ferrous river around us.  My knees were drawn up, legs flung wide.  He was in control.  I felt it as an echo of booted feet on a marble staircase.  A baby crying.  He seemed to be splitting me open, wide and vulnerable and it scared me worse than I remember being scared before.  The universe had cracked, presenting me with a tiny presence as yet unborn, hovering on the edge of consciousness.  Terzian stilled, leaned down and shared breath, pouring himself into me, like fire and iron.  His ouana tongue snaked out, flicked at my seal, nudged it like a cat licking its young. For the first time I felt the awful potential of creation and heard, rumbling in my ears, his promise of the night before. ‘And somewhere in the depths of the night, I desire to break you open, take you as no one has ever done before.’

A shriek. Mine. Nooooooo! I wasn’t ready, not for that!  Damn him!

“Terzian, stop!” I roared and slugged him hard across the face.  Focussed as he was on his goal, my blow was unexpected. He reeled and bent sideways, still deep within me. I twisted my hips, squirming out from under him and crawled backwards rapidly, paddling feet and elbows. In my haste to get away, I fell out of the bed, landing with a painful thump on the floor.

I leapt up, faced him in wrath. “How could you!  You knew how I felt about this.  This, of all things should not be forced.  Never! You’ve betrayed me!”

He looked at me dazed, as if coming out of a fog.  “What?  Cal?”   He sat up, stroking a hand gingerly along his jaw where I’d hit him. “I don’t know why I did that. I didn’t mean to. It, it just happened.”

“I don’t believe you,” I cried.  I began pacing back and forth, waving my hands in agitation.  “How can I trust you again after this?”

“Did you ever?  I felt your thoughts. I know you are planning to leave. I must have been trying to prevent it, subconsciously.”

“Don’t give me that crap.  Subconsciously.  You are a cold, calculating monster.”

He stretched out a hand beseechingly towards me.  “Not with you, Cal.  Please, believe me.  I didn’t mean to do it.  I would never hurt you.  Never.”

“Prove it.” I folded my arms.

His face took on a crafty look.  He reached for a cigarette and lit it.  “How?”

“Let me and Pell go.”

He flinched as if in pain. “Don’t ask for that. I can’t do it.”

I sat on the bed again. Mentally, I reached for the magic in the box under the bed, pulled it to me, and then cast it in his direction where it writhed about him like a ghost before penetrating his skin.  “Cal,” he cried.  “What are you doing?”  Then he shivered, looked blankly at me, hands relaxed in his lap as if awaiting my summons.

I crawled towards him like a panther. “You said you loved me, Terzian. Was it a pure love or a possessive one?  Would you lock me here in chains?  Sentence me to bear your harlings?  Is that love?  If so, it’s no wonder Wraeththu have eschewed it!”

“I have never felt this way before,” he said, shaking his head in wonder as if he couldn’t believe it himself. “This is not normal, I agree.”

“Now is when you reach into yourself and discover if you are truly the future of Wraeththu or a some twisted perversion of human ambition,” I said.  “Your ability to let me go determines this – for yourself, for me, for all those you lead.”

“You’re making a mistake.  It’s a bad world out there, Cal.  I can’t protect you once you leave.”

“No har is asking you to.  Pell and I, we got along fine before we came here; we’ll make our way out there just fine again.”

He paused, tilted his chin slightly as if scenting the wind. “Cobweb has told me there is something terrible awaiting you.”

“I’ll chance it,” I snapped. “Do you believe in Sulh prescience?”

“I’ve learned to listen to him.  He is uncanny sometimes.  He told me you wouldn’t stay.” Terzian sighed, shook his head, and took another drag on the cigarette.  “Very well, Cal.  You can have your freedom.”

“You won’t stop me from leaving?”

“No, I won’t.  Not now. Cobweb told me something else about you too.”  His eyes glowed wolf-like for a moment. “Now, in your abrupt rejection, you’ve left me unsatisfied.  Finish me. A last aruna.  It’s all I ask.”  He stabbed out the cigarette, then turned to stare at me.  His eyes were bruised-looking, the expression haunted.  I nearly fled then and there.

“How do I know I can trust you?”

“If you trust me to keep my word that I won’t harm you and Pell, then you can trust that I won’t get you with pearl against your will.  It was wrong of me, Cal.  See that? You’ve wrung an admission of guilt from me.  Few in this world have.  Be satisfied.”

He was still lord and master.

I went to his arms once more.  I have to admit that his attraction is powerful, an aruna of fire. Much later, I left him sleeping – a smile of dreamy satisfaction on his face.  It was the least I could do.

I folded up my borrowed finery, placed it on a chair, drew on the pants discarded the day before, and then washed the paint off my face.

Padding down the hall, I felt a sense of increasing lightness with every step.  This was the right decision, the one that would make me happy.  I felt it in my bones.  I needed to see Pell, needed to hear his voice, thirsted for a drink of his calming breath.

Opening the door to our room, I saw them in the grey light, lying together as if wrapped in a fog of uneasy dreams.  I came and stood at the foot of the bed, angry in a calm, dispassionate way. Cobweb, what have you done to my Pellaz?  How could Pell have fallen for this?  He was always too trusting.  But then, I suppose that was unfair.  He merely had been waiting for me to play out my own drama.  No, he was my steadfast Pell.  As usual, I was the one who had been faithless.  Sometimes I wonder what he even sees in me.

Pell opened an eye. I smiled, shook my head at him, silly Pell, and was unprepared for the suddenness of his response.  He threw back the covers and literally hurled himself at me.

“Cal, are you alright?  Are you?” he cried.

“Alright?  What do you mean?  Of course I am.”

We’d weathered the storm. I knew that now. We would be fine – and closer for the experience. Cobweb lifted his head, stared at us, eyes filled with a feral light. Slowly he drew his limbs together as if ready to spring.  Still doing Terzian’s bidding, no matter how distasteful. I was angry with him.  Did he have no pride?

“Get back to your master,” I taunted him.

He climbed out of the bed, picked up his nightgown and pulled it over his body.  With a short, sarcastic laugh, he said, “I don’t know what you think you’re doing Cal, but you won’t get away that easily.  And if you do, you’ll be back someday.”

Not very fuckin’ likely, I thought.  Why would he even say such a thing?  My return was the last thing he wanted. “Beat it,” I growled at him, raising my fist threateningly, and he scampered off. He seemed to take his mind-numbing magic with him.

Pell and I embraced.  He was naked; his warm skin and hard muscles felt good under my hands. Real, solid.  I drank in his smell, feeling prickles of arousal. For a moment, I thought of tossing him on the bed and taking him hard. To think I had nearly given him up – for what?  I am a fool.

“We cannot stay here,” I said and he nodded as if he’d expected that.  He was worried but still quite unaware of the full extent of what had happened. Suddenly, the enormity of the last day and a half overwhelmed me. Emotion welled up, and for a moment, I thought the tears would spill over. I sank down on the bed and put my head in my hands, feeling dirty, used.  Well, that had been my desire, hadn’t it?  I had no one to blame but myself.  Pell stood by helplessly, waiting for my direction, so I told him to pack while I took a long, hot bath.  Happy to be able to do something, he began pulling things out of drawers.  While I was in the bathroom, I heard him ask if we’d have any trouble.  Would Terzian try to stop us?

No, I assured him. Even as I said it, I knew it was true. If Terzian even woke up from that last spirit-bruising roon we’d had and the spell I had woven about him, I had the added assurance of his promise.  The way he had said it, I knew keeping it would be a point of honor with him.

We got the horses and left in the dead of night, like thieves.  As we crossed the misty courtyard, shivering in the damp air, I looked up at the balcony where Terzian had tempted me. For a moment, I felt again the throb of desire. Curtains were drawn tight across the glass doors.   I half hoped to see him.  Why, I don’t know.  I had already said goodbye.

Then we were cantering through wet fields.  Deep in thought as we put distance between us and Terzian, I pondered the mistake I had almost made.  If you play with matches, you’re lucky if you escape unscathed.  Pell rode behind and every so often, I would turn to look at his beautiful face.  He was watching me, brow knit with concern.  Anxious.  But not wanting to push me to talk before I was ready.  I realized it was one of the many things I loved about him.

***

We Wraeththu are still so young.  Sometimes I think we haven’t learned anything.  If we are complete within ourselves, both male and female, why do so many of us seek permanent bonds with another har?  Why do we seek chesnari?  As the miles passed and the rain drenched me sober, I began to feel certain that Thiede was wrong.  We, like our human counterparts before us, need a mate to be complete.  I feel it now to the marrow of my being. Male, female, what do they matter?  It’s not the union of opposite sexes we hara need. Instead, we seek the end of the loneliness of the soul. Even proud Terzian felt it.  In this, perhaps, we are no different from the humans.

I am damaged by what I’ve been through, sometimes I think irreparably.  Seel and I went on separate paths. Zack was wild, and he made me wild, and like an animal, I left him.  But with Pell it is different.  He makes me better than I am, than I deserve to be. His sweet, steadfast spirit heals me. I know now that I can never give him up.  Never.  Not for safety, or self-aggrandizement, not for a roon to the stars and back.  Because Pell is the only one who makes me feel whole.  Together we are stronger, shining and feather-light, the way Wraeththu are meant to be.  And if ever I was to conceive life with someone, it is with Pell I want to do it. The realization takes my breath with its power.  It has never occurred to me before to put a name to the feeling I have. Now I do.  Love.  That is it.  I am in love with Pell.

It is time to tell him.  Now that I know the truth of my heart – our hearts, for I am sure he feels the same way, though he has yet to put it into words – it seems we have all the time in the world to discover what it means.  See there, the sun has burst through a fissure in the clouds.  Metaphor. We are heading into the light towards a glorious future together.  Nothing will stand in our way. My heart soars on the wind of dreams.

The End

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5 Comments

  1. Oshun said,

    July 21, 2008 at 11:47 am

    So excited to see this here and so happy it has an editor’s pick star so that people will notice it. This is excellent writing and a fascinating dig into the less-developed, but perhaps implied, aspects of the relationship between Terzian and Cal, which, I must admit, was a puzzle to me the first time I read about it.

    Whether a reader’s preference is for the good Cal or the bad Cal, they will like this story, because the author allows us to crawl inside of his head and see both sides. There is so much to rave about in this story. The first part is absolutely filmic in its visuals. I can just see Cal landing on the table, and later in the scene, Cobweb scrowling. There is such emotional immediacy throughout entire piece and humor. For me, dark without the humor is just plain tedious.

    Oh, almost forgot the building tension and the mini-mystery subplot. The happy ending, of course, is fraught with foreshadowing. Congratulations, Elfscribe, this one of your best of so many great stories.

  2. mystic87 said,

    July 26, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    I loved this! It was so beautiful and the characters were so real and similar to the original. I had a difficult time believing it was fanfiction. Your portryal of Terzian and Cal was right on. Every detail was so wonderfully planned out and this is exactly as I would have envisoned their meetings occuring. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story with us!

  3. toni said,

    July 29, 2008 at 11:04 pm

    Great writing! New to Wraethu fan fic – but, generally speaking, this was a great fic all round.

  4. October 30, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    […] Pel’s departure. I made grateful reference to an image in Elfscribe’s marvelous story, Playing With Matches, by her use of a tattoo on Terzian–though I put mine in […]

  5. wdarling said,

    January 23, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    Well, I gave this an Editor’s Pick so everybody knows I love this… BUT I want to say it again, because I’ve reread it about 10 times. This fic is just so cool — gets inside Cal’s head, paints portrait of Terzian, AND it’s hot as hell. Hot, hot, hot! 🙂


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