For Lorelle (Part 1)

For Lorelle (Part 1)

A Chapter by Nicole
"

For Lorelle was intended to be a mini-sequel to anther book I was writing at the time, dealing with one of my favorite characters, Albinus.

"

I’m still not sure how I got here. I don’t remember the car ride. I don’t remember climbing the eighteen stories’ worth of stairs. I don’t remember opening the door to the icy blast of Virginia’s skyline at two in the morning. How did I get here? When did my world get so small? I can’t remember now, but it is. So small that it’s been choking me to death, making me run in circles to find a solution that was never there to begin with. Would it do any good to call his name? Maybe if I knew it, he would hear me. But he doesn’t know me. I don’t know him. I don’t think I ever will. But I can’t stop myself from hoping that he’ll burst through that door, a perfect stranger, and snatch me away from this. But he’s not coming. No one will. The streetlights are like stars so far below, the cars only passing shadows nearly a thousand miles away. A thousand miles I’d rather know. Will I have time to think? To regret this? I hope not, I don’t know if I could handle any more regret. The wind is so cold, like ice across my face. It makes me feel weightless, the way it blows through my hair. Why is it so comforting? I’ve never felt peace like this. There’s no sound. No city sirens, no shouting people or crying infants, no noisy street sweeper or men whistling in their slick black suits to flag down a cab. Just the silence. And the wind. It’s the most beautiful sound in the world. I wonder if anyone’s ever heard it before? The rail is cold in my hands; it almost seems like it wants me to hurry up. My feet stumble on the ledge, turned with my toes in the air and my arms the only thing holding me away from the city below. Why can’t I cry about this? Maybe it won’t be as hard as I thought. To look at the sky one more time. To close my eyes. To take a final breath before the drop, let go of the railing, and let this place fade away.

 

Chapter 1

 

                  The moon made the ground liquid silver and washed my world in its brilliant light, somehow managing to break down through the naked tree tops to trace lines of their shadows onto the snow banks. But it all blurred past me in a constant streak of mixed shadows and light, my paws barely touching the frozen earth as I wove my way around the tree trunks, nose to the frozen air. They were gaining on me, four on horseback forced to stay out of my direct path for the thick foliage I hammered through. I could smell their beasts’ fatigue, their foaming mouths and sweating flanks that resonated in my nose as a thick and unappealing musk. They didn’t smell much better, their bitterly human stench making my snout wrinkle. I couldn’t resist a snarl of satisfaction; this little exercise just got better and better.

                  The tree line broke and dumped me onto the frozen surface of De Frau Lake, its icy top layered thickly with snow that hid the weaker spots that would prove to be my friend, should their Beasts be foolish enough to ignore their instincts. Regardless, it would be interesting. It would be fun. My paws skidded to a halt, wheeling around to a broad stance with my eyes upon the dark line of trees. At first it was silent. Nothing but the moonlight on the snow and my breath puffing little clouds of fog into the air. But the four black horses broke the tree line no more than ten seconds later and my hackles raised. One brandished a sword, a second swung a large spiked metal ball on the end of a chain. I didn’t take time to consider the weaponry of the other two; they were coming fast. Faster than I’d anticipated.

                  I widened my stance further, claws finding the ice below the foot of fresh, powdery snow, and started the growl in my throat that set the horses’ gate to slow. They tossed their heads and whinnied in resistance. I could see the whites of their eyes as they looked at me; see the red of their nostrils and the foam coming from their open mouths. Their riders were more obscure, but all the same irrelevant. Easily dealt with. These paltry bands of bounty hunters might as well be children with slingshots. Insulting, to say the least.

                  Well, I couldn’t resist. A little show of skill never hurt and so I threw my head back and unleashed I mighty howl that ran in the air and splintered the ice around me, sending cracks like greedy fingers towards the riders. With a blood-curdling whinny and a horrified cry, one of the horses and his rider disappeared into the black water beneath the ice. So easy. It was enough to slow the other three who had trouble keeping their steeds turned to course.

The mood of this pursuit was about to shift and I couldn’t wait. My entire form shivered and trembled with anticipation and I flattened my ears, peeling back my lips into a snarl. Then the temperature began to drop. They would see the winds grow; the skies darken as I called forth my element. They’d see my eyes burn like two blue fires. The more the temperature dropped, the harder I breathed and the more my breath fogged before my snarling lips. It was invigorating to say the least and I took a step forward. The horses were walking carefully, their eyes intent on me. They tossed their heads and the riders looked more tense than they had at the beginning of their embarking out onto my lake. How could they have known? I was winter, of course they knew that. But understanding it was always different. And now maybe they would begin to wrap their thoughts around it. My breath didn’t steam in the air because I was warmer. No. It curled into white mist because my body was colder. Because this land, the thick brambles and wintry tundra of the Icendown Forest, was mine. It had been once, by birthright, and now it was because of my goddess-given talent. The savage prince, they called me. Heh, well I don’t know about savage but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d eaten with my hands and walked on two legs. Let’s just leave it at that.

The moon was clouded over by my little performance, the darkness coming in close as I gathered the storm to myself. The snow fell, tossed in my winds, and I heard the horses cry. Perfect. I could feel them, warm spots against my winter, and I crept in close with my eyes still aglow. They strayed from each other, their senses lost in the white blur of whirling snow and whipping wind and their eyes blind to see anything but what I permitted; which at this point was nothing. They couldn’t even hear each other calling out through the blizzard.

That was when I found the first one. The one brandishing the sword. His eyes were wide and his beard thickly laden in snow and ice, a burly fellow. A good fight. I would drag this one out. I circled him quickly, throwing my scent into the air enough to stall his stupid beast and set it into panic. When I saw the horse rear my heartbeat quickened and I felt my temperature drop again. It bad been so long since I had experienced this kind of bliss. My paws flew across the snow and I dove for the horse, first, and closed my jaws around its neck easily. It screamed in horror, kicking and flailing and managing to fling it’s rider off into the white abyss. He wouldn’t get far. The explosion of blood into my mouth was repulsive. Thick and warm, it tasted bland and flat. I didn’t dally there long, placing a paw across its neck to pin it in place and cranking its head quickly. A satisfying crack set the beast to silence and I stepped away, blood dripping off my chops and staining my long white fur frosty pink.

Humans, WestSea bred or not, always prove to be more difficult. Not because of the weaponry, of course. They think faster, more acutely, and seem to be able to pull escapes out of nowhere. But his escape, the large bearded man with his blade pointed towards me, was a fleeting possibility. His comrades wouldn’t find him and undoubtedly he hadn’t imagined that the rogue prince he had been sent to retrieve would be a five foot aeterni wolf with winter on his breath. Poor idiot. But that wasn’t my problem.

My muscles burned as I swaggered towards him, my head low and my throat thick and moist with a heavy growl. I didn’t even have to snarl. He could see me now, doubtless, blood dripping from my teeth and chest, my eyes burning like two blue moons in the white chaos. My muscles burned, thriving on every moment as he pointed the tip of his blade at me, the muscles in his arms set like stone. I could smell him; each breath he took fanned hot putrid air into my winter playground. He smelled of ale, cheap ale, and sweat. He wore a poor man’s hand-me-down armor and I balked. It was insulting. Still, I had been out of practice for a while. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth, right? Well, actually I had already taken care of the horse. But there were still two left I’d have to handle. Time to stop fooling around.

I circled him slow, watching his twitching, frantic movements. The humbling realization was already glazing over his dark eyes. It was always interesting to see how they responded to that hollow fact that there was no victory. That they were going to die. But I didn’t take the time to let him finish his thought process. I gathered my legs beneath me, fur standing on end, and sprang. His cry rang out into the white blur of falling snow, but it would never reach the ears of his comrades. I aimed for the sword, taking it into my jaws and snapping it off at the hilt, mashing it between my teeth and flinging it aside as nothing more than a crumpled bit of metal. He raised his arms, as they all do, to protect his face, shouting his head off and pleading for his life. Too late for that nonsense. I closed my mouth around one of his legs and snatched him off his feet, dragging him a few steps to make a show of it. Maybe if they did hear him, they would flee. Make my hunting them down a little bit more interesting.

His blood tasted worse than his ride, like salty meat drowned in stale ale. I resisted the urge to spit it out and dropped his leg, making a dive for his throat and finding it fitting easily into my jaws. Human flesh severs so easily, and I ripped it from his body quickly. His screams stopped and I loped back, my face spotted with the crimson spray. A twinge of discomfort drew my eyes to my left shoulder; the b*****d had lodged a dagger into my side! I snarled down at his motionless form, a marred carcass on the ice and snow, and turned to seize it in my jaws and rip it out. It hurt, but only slightly, and I shook it off quickly. Time for the others.

My snow storm stirred in the air for a long time after my pursuers had gone on to see whichever gods they worshipped. I suppose it was good conditions for it, better than I had anticipated. But I hardly minded it as I padded back across my frozen refuge. The moon was able to break a bit of light past the clouds as the storm began to fade, casting that brilliant ambiance across the snow and ice and sparkling in the ice that clung to my fur. Just inside the tree line on the opposite side of the lake, I’d found myself a little refuge some years ago. It was my own little piece of the world that I had bedded down in for a few years, though it seemed now I’d have to relocate deeper into the mountains...again. More men would come looking for those I’d dispatched, they’d bring with them more weapons and more horses in greater numbers with better skill. All of them hot with rage and smelling strongly of vengeance. I couldn’t help but grin, my tongue lolling out over my fangs; my last little joy.

My little cave was as I left it, the floor arranged with pine straw and old bits of blankets I’d snatched from previous prey and lined with a collection of weaponry I’d kept in case my need became dire. And clothes. Yeah, I had a few pairs of this and that just in case. I stepped into the little cave set where it was on a small jetty of rock that ended a few yards back off the shore and spat out gray boulders that vanished below the ice of the lake. It was warm inside, the rocks baked all day long by the sunlight, but it would be chilled soon enough by my breath. I shook my fur from snout to tail, spraying the floor with snow and ice before I settled in the back of my little haven and tended to the few nicks and cuts I’d collected from the night’s events. Licking didn’t do much, but it was instinct. The one on my chest I’d received from the man with the spiked ball and chain was the worse, the wounds slightly deeper, and I couldn’t help but whimper as I tended it. I sneered, glaring at the floor and knowing full well what I’d have to do. It had been a long time...a very long time, since I’d been hurt this badly. Memories blazed before my eyes and I snarled a little, clenching my eyes shut and setting my teeth in resentment.

It had been so long since I’d resumed my human skin. I’d spent so much time diligently losing myself beneath this wolfy exterior that I didn’t want to believe that there was anything else. Unfortunately, I’d know that some situations required thumbs and my strength in this furry exterior faded more quickly. Fantastic. I sat up on my haunches, grimacing under the wound that dripped blood onto my straw bed, and let the shivering naked skin climb my body. There was no cracking of bones or sick warping noises. It was smooth, effortless, though I resented the caged feeling immediately and looked down at my human hands with disgust. Big, broad palms and pale skin. My arms were corded, thickly hewn with muscle, and my hair had grown long. It was a thick mane of white tangles, running down my back and knotted with twigs and leaves. A sparkle of silver caught my eye and I stared for a long time, unable to believe how I had forgotten. The thick silver band around my middle finger of my left hand glistened in the dim light of the coming dawn that filled the night with hues of purple. A single round clear gem set into the top sparkled beautifully and the thick band was engraved with swirling thorns; the signet ring of the heir to the Winter Throne. The crest of Chateau De Icewinde. I’d almost forgotten I still had it.

Morbid thoughts found me then and but I couldn’t bring myself to pry it off my hand and fling it aside. Maybe that was why it was still there in the first place. I could run from my humanity, from my house and its responsibilities. From the people that said they loved me. But I couldn’t run from what blood had given me. A hollowing thought and I clenched my fist, looking away and filling my head with as much of anything else as I could. It wasn’t hard, but then I’d had a lot of time to practice. Ripping one of the shirts I’d collected into long lengths of bandaging gave my time to chew up the brazenberry I’d collected in case I came across this situation. They tasted terrible, but the numbing effect was immediate as I spit it into my hand and smeared it onto the bandages, pressing them over the gashes in my chest and tying them there around my torso. By morning, they’d be healed.

An unfortunate side effect was lethargy and that mixed with the day’s events and several days without food was enough to leave me exhausted. I lay on my side, watching the day break beyond the mouth of my cave. The birds twittered in the trees. I could smell vultures gathering around the corpses of my prey. Farther beyond that, the daylight warmed the ice and I heard the explosive pops and bursts as the lake’s frosty cover splintered here and there. But it all faded as my eyes became heavy. The throbbing my muscles became distant and numb and my mind couldn’t lay grasp of a memory long enough to call faces or names back into my head. A good thing. If I saw her face, sleep would have been impossible. Thank the goddess for that.

 

_____

 

The twilight stunned my eyes as they flew open, but that wasn’t what roused me. The smell of horses was thick in the air and in the distance I could hear the boisterous shouts of human men. How long had it been? I couldn’t recall. But my wounds were long since healed and I stripped the bandages away, my temperature dropping in panic at the baying of hounds; so they had brought dogs to track me. That would make making a clean escape difficult. Regardless, I wasn’t prepared to take on a host of men in the broad daylight with a significant amount of brazenberry still making my movements sluggish. I stripped the bandages away, yanking a white canvas tunic over my head and a pair of black breeches up over my naked hips. They were too long and covered all but the toes of the brown boots I had stashed away for just such an occasion. I took one of the swords I had saved, clasping the hilt belt around my waist and checking it before seizing another smaller dagger and strapping it there likewise. There was no time for anything else.

The sun was warm and made everything soggy, not at all to my liking, and I kept in a low crouch as I slunk into the thickets. My boot heels sunk into the murky land, the snow retreating to the trees and shadows until the night came. It was summer, after all, and this was as warm as it would get. But I still cursed beneath by breath at each sloshing step, listening to the fading voices and muted howls of hounds that began to fade into the foliage behind me. With the snow melting and soaking everything, tracking my scent would be longer and more tedious. A good thing. And it was harder for dogs to trace the change in my scent from wolf and man; something must change that makes it more difficult for them. But once they found my little hideaway, the gig would be up. I had to make time.

The landscape swept upwards just beyond my lake. I had roamed this area for about a ten mile radius, keeping in close in case of an urgent situation like the on the lake. But I had gone far enough to know that this tiny valley lay astride several large peaks and the highest of which would be my destination. I would make it in three days time, to the summit, and from there I would pick my next destination. There, at the pentacle of the world, it would be colder. More to my liking. Spring and summer never touched those heights. Men, well most men, knew better than to venture that far away from civilization. They’d give up. Hopefully, anyway.

As the day wore on, the temperature dropped and the trees started growing at a forty five degree angle to keep themselves pointed skyward. The ground sloped up dangerously and the soil gave way to rocks and loose stones. Soon it would be boulders that only the small shrubs and hardly alpines could manage to take root on. But with the temperature back at a comfortable low, I felt better and the brazenberry began to wear off. The clothes felt stifling, heavy as mail, and it took all my power to keep from slipping back into the skin I had come to prefer. My long white hair whipped in the growing wind as the sun began to set. Annoying, but not enough that I stopped to take care of it with my dagger. There had been a day when cutting my hair had been a frivolous and studied science...those days were long gone. My how things change.

Night gathered hues of scarlet and lavender on the skyline above the evergreens but the wind never died. In fact, it grew more intense. I had suspected this and while it was in my ability to lay it with a command, something about disturbing the savagery of a place entirely virgin to the hands of men seemed sinful. So I let it be. I listened to the thrumming of my heart, constant and hard, like a rock of ice in my breast. It matched each step with a strange fast rhythm that kept my occupied until a soft puff of breath disturbed my thoughts. Two wintery eyes of soft amber peered at me, peeking through the thornbrush and snuffing the air gingerly. She was beautiful, entirely natural, but no doubt she recognized my scent as an aeterni rather than one of her kind. Hence the intrigue. The shewolf kept a distance from me, trotting here and there and sometimes crossing my tracks to sniff at them and watch me with her dusky silver fur bristled. She followed me for some time, breaking as the night finally fell and leaving me to my thoughts again. A sad and horrifying place to be in. The wind blew harder, streaking my face with frost and my hair with ice.

The moon was absent this night, a new moon, and I felt oddly uncertain without its silver light. I could see, of course, but the comfort of that all-seeing orb was always welcomed. I had worked up a huff in my breathing as I climbed the near vertical mountainside, looking back over my shoulder at the tracks I had left in the snow. They were all but gone. It had begun to snow and the sky overhead now churned with gray and black shadows that could have only been clouds. The mountain, it seemed, was welcoming me in. I shuddered and turned away from what lay behind, putting my face back into the wind and resuming my hike upwards. The snow would throw off my pursuers; even dogs couldn’t track in this weather. Good thing too, with the ridges steeply heading skyward and the ground becoming steadily thickly laden with snow, the terrain was proving treacherous to be going too quickly on two legs.

It wasn’t even an hour before the air about me was whirling with white, the wind pressing the cold flakes into my eyes and hair, freezing over my skin and encasing my ears in a sheet of ice. It was little overwhelming, even for me, but more obnoxious than uncomfortable. I didn’t enjoy my senses being so overwhelmed and how my two legged body didn’t seem to fair as well on the slick ground. There had been a time, one that I couldn’t remember, when I had been more at ease like this. When I could have parted the storm for myself to slip through. Maybe I’d forgotten how. Or maybe I’d just spent too much time concentrating on being animal. Regardless, it was time to find a place to wait it out and I bowed my head against the wind, in reverence to the might of this mountain that was to be my begrudging host, and steered a course towards the cliffs. They looked monstrous in the darkness, ghostly dark form against the swirling snowfall. I placed a hand against the rock face and followed it, searching for an inlet or something that might provide me some relief from the wind. Nothing. A desolate situation and I felt irritation making me impatient. A little moonlight would have been helpful.

I turned my back to the rock face and looked out through the thick clouds of snow that blew howled around me and bent the trees. That was when I saw her eyes, glittering ever so faintly in the chaos. She was still following me. I hadn’t been able to hear or smell her through all this, but now as I pressed my senses towards her, I could sense the warm spot that was her presence there just beyond my direct sight. I could sense her body heat resonating as a hole in the winter about me and I sunk down into a squat, locking eyes with her and lowering my head a little. She understood and trotted closer, thick silver fur laden with a layer of snow as she snuffed vainly and whimpered at discontent and uncertainty. The timberwolves were our underlings, or so they had become. Their respect for us ran deep. But no doubt she could smell the human blood on my breath and that would make her uneasy.

With her ears pinned back and her fur bristled, cautious, she approached me close enough to take in a noseful before dancing back out of reach to process it. It didn’t take her long. Thank the goddess. She turned and began a swift trot into the evergreens, seeming unimpaired by the snowfall. She paused every now and again, casting amber eyes back at me to make sure I was following, and making a backtrack down the mountain. It was harder, in the wind, to manage it. Once it caught across my back just right and sent me sprawling down across a few rocks. I felt the snap of a rib and wince, barking out a curse that made her stop. She was over me sniffing my face instantly and whimpering softly. Damn ribs. When I had myself back to my feet she was already trotting into the gloom again. And I followed. It went on like that for nearly two hours and I was beginning to loathe her persistence. She wasn’t aeterni, of course, but she understood what I meant when I whimpered loudly my frustrations up at her. She didn’t stop.

I have to give her some credit, she knew what she was doing. A huge cavern opened up before us, on the edge of a gully whose sides were steadily icing over. It’s blank open maw was threatening to see, but she trotted in ahead of me without reserve. That, at least, was comforting. I shivered at the decision and placed my trust on a shewolf I had never met before. The cave was pleasantly cold inside, quietly echoing the howling winds outside, and delved back into gloom that seemed endless. I could hear her nails clicking on the stone as she continued into the winding jagged halls and I followed, less assertive. My eyes adjusted quickly. If you’ve never experienced cave darkness, you should. It’s unlike any other kind of darkness you’ve ever been in. There’s something to be said for there being absolutely no light at all. But like I said, my eyes adjusted and I could make out her form, lying down peacefully amidst a few other warm bodies. A pack. A small one, of course, but they all looked up me with their intelligent eyes able to see me clearly. Four males, two females counting the one I had met, and three puppies. They were all huddled together here, away from the storm and didn’t seem at all surprised that I was joining them. Weird. But wasn’t about to bite the hand.

Sitting across from them, my back to the cavern wall, I listened the wind howling distantly. It was an eerie sound that whispered up and down my spine. Far away were soft dripping noises from deeper within the cave. I tried to take off my belt and lay the sword aside, but found the buckle and the sword frozen in place. So much for that. I sighed heavily, folding my arms around myself and staring across the motionless bodies of my cave-mates. They were sleeping soundly. Well, all except for the female who had brought me here. She lay with her muzzle on her paws, watching me with ears perked. I wondered what her name was. I could’ve asked her, slipped into my other skin. But the effort seemed vain and I looked at the floor between my boots. If I slept, I couldn’t tell. My mind kept going. Kept rolling through memories and images of people I couldn’t remember. But whether my eyes were open or closed, I couldn’t tell. The blackness was the same either way. I hoped to at least notice the wind silencing. But it didn’t and I grew anxious. I had nowhere else to go, at least nowhere beyond this face, and so I stood and stepped away from the pack.

My books thunked on the stone floor and echoed on for miles. The sound of the wind faded altogether. Sometimes the cave was narrow and rigid. Sometimes it was broad and smooth. Sometimes the walls were sharp and other times they felt moist and slick. Regardless, I stumbled my way through the blackness, feeling around for something, anything, and wondering how long I could go before it either stopped or opened up somewhere else. The sound of dripping was all around me. It was chilling to say the least and I felt as if my heart would hammer right out of my chest. With every drop, I expected to hear something else. Something that would ram a spike of fear into my gut and send me running. But there was nothing. I had a feeling that there never was anything here in this black pit that led into the mountain’s heart. I had that feeling...but it was wrong. I rounded an abrupt corner, feeling my way over the stalagmites to step on flat ground. And that was when I saw the light.

 

_____

 

                  It was blue, soft, and ever-shifting. Like a pond lit by the moonlight. It moved glittering hues of soft blue across the walls and ceiling. It moved like water. It was water. My eyes fell upon it and I stopped dead. My breath caught in my throat and it took me a moment to remember how to make my heart beat. A small puddle, probably only three feet in diameter, in the center of a small chamber, filled with a liquid I had never seen before. It moved and flowed like water, silvery blue water that glowed with a radiance I had only seen in gems. Liquid sapphire.

I remembered to breathe then and took a step towards it. One at a time. But each one brought me closer till I stood close enough to its edge to peer down into the ever-shifting depths. What I saw there was wrong. It made my heart thud with a clamoring crash and the hairs on my arms stood on end. There was no reflection in it. Not of me or of the cave around me. It was just black, silver and endless shining blue. It was wrong. My breath swirled in the air as it hastened and I couldn’t stop myself. A hand, I guess it was mine, reached out to touch the surface. It shivered, moved, but never stopped flowing. A solitary puddle flowing to nowhere. The water itself was lukewarm, indifferent. I curled back and watched it. Waiting for a green scaly hand to reach out and grab me and drag me under. Nothing happened.

It was all wrong. But then again, I didn’t exactly have a lot riding on survival at this point. I reached forward again and stuck my whole hand inside. Something hard struck it, not hard, as my fingers brushed over what felt like stone. It was cold. Cold and wet. I closed my hand around something smooth and round, bringing it back through to hold it up into the blue light. It was glass, shaped like a cylinder with one end narrow and one end closed off. It looked like a bottle but the outside was mottled with writing of some kind on paper. The writing was beyond anything I could read and I turned it over in my hands, watching the light gleam through it and wondering at it. I guess I’m sort of slow, because it didn’t dawn upon me until then that I had pulled something out of the puddle. Something was on the other side. The realization gave me such a jolt that the bottle fell from my hands and smashed on the stone floor. I took a few steps back, frantically processing. But there wasn’t any way to process this. I swallowed hard, my brows knitting, and I licked my lips carefully before scooting closer to the puddle again. I crouched, on my hands and knees finally, and stuck my whole arm into the thing. Very scientific, I know. But I felt around. There was no denying it now. There was something on the other side.

Decision time. I sat on the edge, my arms wrapped around my torso, glaring down into the puddle as I stared into its dark, reflectionless, depths. To stay was to stay here. In the mountains. In the snow and ice. In the cave with the wolves. In a world that neither liked me nor needed me, knee-deep in snow for the rest of my life. But was I willing to take a plunge into something that could, potentially, kill me? Probably. I snorted at my own gloomy demeanor and raked some of my tangled white hair of my face. Fine. I had a decision. Staying here in this black hole was no different from dying. My choice wasn’t hard; one hell or another. I chose the one that was glowing bluish silver.

I’m not the smartest guy in the world, never claimed to be. But I’m pretty sure I was completely off my rocker when I swung my legs over into the puddle and let myself fall. Maybe it was from being alone for too long. Or maybe my cheese had finally slid off my cracker. Either way, I took the plunge. Eliondia disappeared behind me.

 

Chapter 2

 

                  The lights were the first thing I noticed. The buzzed and snapped unlike anything I had ever seen before. I couldn’t stop staring at them as I found myself falling out of a puddle under what appeared to be a large bridge. The air was cool, but not cold, and the wind was nearly nonexistent. But I couldn’t even think about that. Lights atop long black posts lined a road paved with black stone that felt strange beneath my feet. It was smooth, too smooth. The light buzzing off those strange lamps couldn’t reach me where I stood beneath the bridge but as I eased out; I squinted under the glare of those miniature suns and could hardly fathom what was going on. I turned back, looking for the blue puddle, and found nothing. Just black stone. S**t. That wasn’t good. My heart rate picked up immediately and I turned around in a circle, looking up into a seemingly starless sky for a moon, a sun, anything. There was nothing. Just the black paved road and the buzzing lamps...and me.

                  I wasn’t alone for long. In fact, I heard it before I saw it. A low growl that couldn’t have been animal. But as I turned around to see two lights, two glowing eyes coming towards me through the night, I couldn’t imagine that it was anything else. It would stop, I knew it. But that beast was hurtling at an amazing speed and I was awestricken. Even when the two eyes shone their light directly on me, blinding me beyond any reaction, and it made a deafening high pitched squeal, I still assumed it would stop. Well, it didn’t. At least not in time. It smacked into my waist and sent me flying nearly twenty yards. But for my own credit, I did leave a healthy dent in the front of it.

I came back to my senses lying on the flat of my back, staring up into the sky and trying to understand what, exactly, had happened. I had no answers. That’s when a face appeared over me, frantic and calling out to me. I could hardly hear over the ringing in my ears. But I got a good look at his face. A man, human by his smell, in his later years judging by the streaks of silver in his hair, reached down to pat my cheek a little and call out to me.

“Hey! Are you conscious?!” I could finally hear him saying. “Are you okay? Jesus Christ, I thought you were an old woman. Can you move? Are you in pain? I’m calling an ambulance, okay? Just stay still.”

I mused a minute over why being an old woman would make me a more appealing target before sitting up. He was pacing away, something pressed to his ear that he shouted into frantically. The beast he had been riding stood a few yards away, the front of it crumpled up and spewing steam into the air. It wasn’t alive, or at least not now. But it didn’t smell like anything I recognized. Harsh, metallic, and sharp in a way I couldn’t understand.

“Hey, don’t move, okay? The ambulance is coming.” He was back standing over me, looking at me with eyes that were all too fleshy and I resisted a snarl. A growl, however, made its way past my lips. He made a face and stood back a little, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a kid your age with hair like that.” His voice was a little mystified and I looked up at him, judging how I might best attack him in spite of myself. He hadn’t made any hostile movements yet, but I wasn’t ruling that out. Not yet, anyway.

“What’s your name? Can you talk? Do you speak English?” He kept babbling and the more he spoke the more unnerved I felt. I gave him a swift evaluation, appraising his strange clothing and peculiar accent, his close cropped hair and that little object he kept opening and closing. It glowed every time he did it.

“Albinus.” I finally answered him, my voice a strange sound to my own ears. “Albinus Daevian Icewinde. That is my name.”

He didn’t seem to sure about that and his forehead wrinkled, “Weird name, kid.” Was all he said after that and he stuck his hands into the pockets of his coat. He eyed my clothing with particular interest, and the blade that dangled in its sheath at my hip. I noticed that he carried no blade.

The ambulance arrived. But I only knew that because he announced it to me with relief in his voice, stepping forward to wave his arms to the monster, much akin to his that now sat smoking, that approached with brilliant blinding lights flashing. I puzzled at how it didn’t strike him as his had me. That was a tad unfair. But my thoughts were lost as six people came pouring out of the flashing growling monster and surrounded me, asking me frantic questions and jabbing and poking at me with objects. I snarled at one who attempted to clasp something over my mouth and nose and began struggling. They were stronger than I expected and no sooner had a locked a good grip on one of the men’s shoulders to fling him away from me did I feel a slight twinge of pain in my neck. A woman withdrew a gloved hand bearing a needle-pointed device and I started at her blankly, trying to understand. That’s when the world began to get fuzzy and the voices around me seemed slower and skewed. As the flashing lights died out before my closing eyes I had a moment’s worth of time to panic. To wonder where they were taking me. And to process ambulance alongside the other things I hated.

 

____

 

                  My eyes came into focus again inside a small, cramped room. Someone held that damn mask over my nose and mouth again and I could see four of them sitting all ‘round me. Damnit all. My vision swerved under the lingering effect of whatever it was they had injected into my neck, but I came to enough to realize that we were moving. We were moving fast.

                  “He’s awake again!” One of the women’s voice was shocked, horrified almost.

                  “No way,” Another protested, “I gave him morphine. It’s only been five minutes!”

                  “Well then you tell me why he’s looking at me right now!” The first declared and something was passed over my eyes. I noticed the glimmer of a needle in the light that glared down into my face. That was enough to get me panicking and I braced, realizing suddenly that I was strapped down. Unfortunately, I didn’t process it all fast enough to break loose. The needle was in my arm again and the world went black much faster than before. Morphine got catalogued right alongside ambulance.

                  I could hear voices. Ghosts of sound that managed to reach me from beyond the darkness. Voices that were familiar and yet, beyond anything I had heard before. Their accents were odd, but not such that I couldn’t understand. I struggled to hear it, to remember. My mind was sluggish and resistant and from what I could feel, my limbs were deadweights. For the meantime, I was screwed. I contended myself to listen. Listen and learn. Maybe then I could get some idea of where I was and what the hell was going on.

                  “We’re seven minutes out. Young male, no identification, seems to be early to mid twenties. Condition stable. Possible head trauma.” I could hear a screaming wailing noise that buzzed and beeped frantically behind their voices. It changed constantly, the sound erratic and panicky.

                  “Look at his hair...have you ever seen anything like that?”

                  “Did you see his eyes?”

                  “No, what did they look like?”

                  “Blue, but it was so light. Almost white. Never seen anything like that before.”

                  “Maybe he’s an albino. You know some of them have white hair and eyes like that.”

                  “Not any that I’ve seen. Besides, look at his clothes. And you heard him growl. He sounded like an animal or something. Maybe he’s...you know.”

                  “Oh knock it off. I’ve heard psychotic patients sing like Elvis and meow like cats. He just got nailed by a car, he’ probably has severe head trauma.”

                  “Yeah, but look at him. Not a scratch on him. Jesus...what kind of clothes are these? Is that a real sword?”

                  “Shut up. I can’t hear. Yes? Alpha Romeo, we’re two minutes out. Patient is subdued, 2 cc’s morphine. Tell the ER to have restraints ready.”

                  Anything else was lost to that god-awful wailing noise and I felt my eyes sink back into my sockets. Every ounce of my flesh felt as heavy as lead and I struggled to keep my thoughts, at least, somewhat lucid. I really hated morphine. Whatever the hell it was.

 

____

 

                  The lights above me didn’t buzz like the ones on the street had. They were dim, in fact the whole room was, and my vision swerved in and out of focus as the darkness began to lift. I couldn’t remember what happened, how I’d gotten here. It was cold, though, pleasantly though. Unfortunately that was about all that was pleasant. There was something metallic rammed into the flesh of my arm and the air around me was saturated with smells that made my nose wrinkle. It smelled like death and sickness. There were other scents, sharp and harsh that made my eyes water. I didn’t recognize many of them. Some resembled potions I’d seen the elves use, healing herbs and poultices. But these were different and far stronger. I grimaced and attempted to sit up.

Suddenly I was very aware of the straps that held my chest, arms, and legs to the bed. Gods curse it. I growled, pressing my teeth together as I flexed my left arm, the muscles becoming rock hard beneath my white skin and snapping one of the thick cloth straps with one solid tug. It made more noise than I’d have liked but that was the least of my concern at the moment. My limbs still felt like deadweights from the morphine. It was hard to focus on any one thing without my head spinning circles around the small room I lay in. Something beeped erratically, falling in time with my heart beat, and began a long unending shriek as I began plucking little odds and ends that were stuck to my bare chest.

My clothes were gone, damnit all, and I was wearing a paper thin gown that ended rather abruptly at my thighs. This became more of a concern as I stripped the rest of the restraints away and sat on the edge of the bed. The shrieking cry never stopped and I cast a cold glare at the tall tower of metal and flashing lights that it seemed to come from. Why wouldn’t it shut up? Some kind of alarm?

A woman dressed in baby blue clothes flew into the room and silenced it, turning to me with a frantic look on her tired face. She was older, her hair a soft honey color, but her eyes were kind. “Sir, you can’t leave the room. Are you feeling okay? You’re in Wilheight General Hospital. Do you remember anything from before the accident?”

Accident? That thing hit me on purpose! There was nothing accidental about it! But the look in her big doe eyes kept me in check and I pressed my lips together. Wilheight General Hospital. I’d have to remember that. “I’m fine.” I managed and seized the needle in my arm with the intent of yanking it out.

She stopped me and pressed a hand to my chest; her hands were blazing hot with warmth against my cold skin. That seemed to shock her and I read the expression of fear and awe on her face as plainly as if she’d said it aloud. “You’re so cold. Are you sure you’re feeling okay? The doctor’s are working on your case; you were hit by a vehicle on the 165 interstate. You had no identification; can you tell me your name?”

I hated being asked the same question over and over by people I didn’t know. “Albinus.” I said, not giving her the same spill I had the last guy. No point in going into that much detail with someone I didn’t know and would probably never see again.

“Okay then, Mr. Albinus, you’re going to have to lie back and calm down and let us reattach your heart monitor. The doctors are looking over your x-rays and if everything’s okay then they’ll sign your release and you can go.”

“I’m fine.” I pressed again, flicking a glare to her that shocked her a little. I could see it in the tired lines on her face and puffed a frustrated sigh that fanned cold air across her face. That shocked her as well and she took a tiny step back. Finally, it was sinking in. Didn’t they know what I was? Didn’t they know winter when they saw it?

“You’re so cold.” She said slowly, looking over me with twinge of fear beginning to twinge at the corners of her features. “Are...you...” Her voice died away into silent deliberation and I looked away.

She obviously didn’t know what I was. Fantastic. I rolled my eyes and locked gazes with her again. It had been a while since I’d met someone that didn’t know aeterni. But that puddle had dumped me in this loud, shrieking, panicky world and I was becoming frustrated by it. “Look, just get me some clothes and I’ll leave. I’m fine. You’re doctors, they’re not going to find anything wrong with me.”

I was shocked when she believed me and nodded a little. “Are you...an angel?” She managed to breathe.

Angel? Well, I had no idea what that meant, but the way she said it lent the kind of respect I was looking for. I went with it. I nodded and held her gaze without reserve, searching her face and letting a bit of my true essence filter out. Her face paled and she took another step back. “Clothes?” I pressed again.

She was gone from the room before I finished the word and the door shut behind me. Great. I had no idea what to expect from that. Maybe saying yes hadn’t been such a fantastic idea. Thank the goddess she returned a few minutes later with a stack of clothes in her hands, not my clothes. Well. Beggars can’t be choosers, I guess.

“I knew it the moment I saw you.” She was whispering and didn’t seem at all surprised that I was standing. I had ripped that damn needle out of my arm and took the stack of clothes from her. Her eyes were dazed, looking at me periodically and never longer than a second or two. I began to wonder if angel was their word for aeterni. That, at least, gave me a little hope. “Do you...have a message for me?” Her eyes were full of tears now. I was baffled but did well not to show it.

“You’re a good person.” Was all I could come up with as I stripped the paper gown off my skin and climbed into the heavy, thick clothing she had given me. Turns out the clothes looked a lot hers, only larger, and the pants were a dark navy blue with a shirt of a lighter bluish shade. They were light, which pleased me, and comfortable.

My words seemed to strike a chord. Well at least I was keeping up a good façade from her end. “Oh God...thank you.” She was crying frantically now and I watched her with a crease in my brow. Humans were such strange beings and I couldn’t help but feel a little sympathy for her. They led such short, desperate lives.

“Things’ll turn out okay.” I tried again, hoping to at least stop her crying. If she was just letting my waltz out of here, it would probably get her in trouble of some kind. Might as well make it worth her while. I glanced up at her as I tied a pair of white shoes made of soft spongy fabric on my feet. They were a little big, but good enough to get me by.

“M-my mother? She’ll be okay?” She couldn’t make herself get more than five feet close to me, which was probably for the best.

I stood, looking down at her and cocked my head to the side slightly. Time to go. I scanned her expression closely, building up my exit and reading further into the emotions written in her big doe eyes. Regret. Fear. Worry. “Whatever happens, happens. You can’t blame yourself for it. Humans spend way too much time trying to control everything.” That was an understatement. “Sometimes you just have to sit back and let things go. So relax. You’re a good person.”

She seemed tearfully appeased and clasped her hands over her mouth, nodding frantically and seeming as though she’d pounce on me at any moment and force me to hug her. I sincerely hoped she didn’t. “Thank you...thank you so much.”

“I have to go.” I was already heading for the door and I cast a last glance back at her, clenching my jaw and remembering a bit of my educate, “Thank you.”

 




© 2010 Nicole


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Added on October 11, 2010
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Nicole
Nicole

Wichita Falls, TX



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