7 Deadly Sins – Pride

Xavior Ericksson stood to attention as his commanding officer paced back and forth in front of him. The man did not look at all pleased, as evidenced by the frown that currently graced his lips, and the way his brows knit together above his dark blue eyes.

They were in his office, a place where no one in the Division wanted to be called when the boss was in a bad mood. Despite that, and his situation, he held his head high. He didn’t honestly believe he needed to be here but, even so, at the moment the space didn’t feel quite large enough with the way Domerin Lorcasf was moving. The man had somehow perfected the menacing loom down to an art. He could practically exuded authority when he wanted to.

“I still cannot believe you disobeyed my orders and moved in before we were ready.”

“Commander, I don’t understand. We were still able to complete our objective, and in addition were able to secure another target before they even realized we were there. We would not have captured him at all were it not for my actions. He would have gone away and hurt others before we could track him down again.”

“That doesn’t matter.” Domerin’s tone was dismissive, making him chafe under the implication.

“I give the orders I do for a reason, and capturing an extra scrumbag doesn’t give you license to forget that you disobeyed the chain of command. You could have gotten someone killed, pulling a stunt like that, and that is something you cannot ever take back. You acted only for yourself.”

“But I did not act only for myself! Think of all those who will avoid suffering because he is no longer free.”

“That isn’t the point. You did what you did because you were sure you knew best. That stubborn pride in your own skill blinds you. Whatever good might have come out of catching him is overshadowed by your actions. I cannot, and will not, have someone on my team who puts that ahead of the well being of their fellows and the integrity of the mission. If I didn’t think there was potential in you, I’d have had you off the team already.”

That certainly got his attention, and he deflated a little bit. He wanted to believe the other man wouldn’t be rid of him, but he wasn’t the sort who played around either.

“What are you going to do?”

“You will be disciplined. I will have a schedule for you and, for the moment, that starts with taking you off active duty.”

“But you need-”

“I don’t need you, Xavior. Haven’t you been listning?” Domerin’s gaze was like ice for a few moments, before it melted a bit. “Not like this, at any rate. If we’re going to do this, we’re going to do it my way, understand?”

This time Xavior held his tongue, and just gave a slight nod.

Domerin considered him a few long moments before nodding.

“As I was saying, you’re off active duty for at least two weeks. You will perform whatever assignments I give you. Instead of missions you will be placed on a special detail, from which I expect not to hear a single complaint, is that clear?”

“Yes, Commander.”

“Good, now let’s go over what you’re going to be doing.”

He’d been shown down into the basement, where he would be spending his special detail. Guard duty should have been exciting, but given how secure this place already was, he doubted he’d be seeing any action. He’d readied himself for boredom, considering this below him. He had no other choice, however. Domerin Lorcasf wasn’t a man to be trifled with, and he really didn’t want to lose his place on the team, knowing Domerin would follow through if he didn’t obey.

It was chilly down in the basement, enough so that he’d been forced to bring along a jacket. It was for the machines that ran the Faenet, he’d been told. The minute they arrived he already didn’t like it. The hum of the machinery drowned out natural sound, and everything felt fake to him; a temple of metal and glass.

He was a man who thrived in nature, under the sky. Down here, the outside world might as well not have existed.

How was he supposed to sit down here all night for weeks?

Despite his feelings he held his head high, not allowing him to show any hint of what was inside. Besides that, he had the distinct feeling he was being watched. He hadn’t appreciated his guide’s tone when she’d wished him good night, either. She might as well have said ‘good luck’.

His post, if it could be called that, was a room that might as well have been a closet. He wouldn’t even be properly patrolling the rooms down here, for fear of something being broken. Instead he’d be monitoring from the claustrophobic closet, sat in a hard metal chair, in front of a bank of monitors fed continual security camera feeds. He’d really only be needed if something went wrong.

Give it to his commander, he knew how to pick the worst punishment possible.

A cursory scan of the room turned up nothing particularly special, though there was a small control panel that let him manually switch between cameras, a small computer for taking logs, and a radio.

He rolled his eyes and pulled a pen and paper out of his jacket pocket, planning to log the old fashioned way. He was well known for being uncomfortable around technology, as he and computers did not get on well, but he’d be damned if he let it get the better of him. He could do this, surely. They were just a bunch of machines.

Experimentally, he flicked one of the buttons that controlled the camera monitors. A loud buzzing sound broke the quiet and he scrambled to shut it off, fumbling for a moment in a not very graceful way.

At least no one had seen-

A disembodied chuckle echoed in the air around him.

“Are you lost?” The voice of a woman spoke, carried over a speaker system set into the ceiling.

It sent a shiver down his spine, but his guide had warned him about this. It was no ghost haunting the halls, but the woman who ran the Faenet. Mainframe, as she called herself. His guide had avoided going past her, but had cautioned him that she was best ignored. He’d had no intentions of engaging her, but it seemed she had other ideas.

“I asked you a question.” The voice came again, when he didn’t immediately answer.

“I’m not lost, no. I am Xavior Ericksson, and I have been assigned as your security for the evening.” He felt a bit stupid, talking to the air, but she responded immediately.

“My custodian, you mean. What did you do?”

Xavior instantly bristled, the self-assured tone of the voice setting him off. He had no doubt what she was asking him and he didn’t appreciate her forwardness.

“I am a member of the Division, not some sort of janitor. And, for your information, I have done nothing wrong. It is unwise to make such assumptions.”

A laugh echoed over the system.

“They only give this job out as a punishment. No one wants to be down here with me.”

Oddly, he thought she sounded almost proud of that.

“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Miss Mainframe, I have committed no such offense.”

There was silence, long enough for him to wonder if she’d iven up, but his hope was soon dashed.

“Xavior Ericksson, Division Private, personnel number 13612-A5. Currently on disciplinary probation for disobeying orders under the command of Dom-”

“Stop!” He drew to his feet, looking around wildly for a moment, but of course there was no face to glare at. It was hardly fair, sticking him in here with someone he couldn’t properly see. “My personal details are none of your business.”

“So touchy,” she tutted, without a hint of apology. “I hardly think someone on probation has any right to protest. I have a right to know who’s guarding me, don’t I?”

He was sure he heard mocking in his voice, and he narrowed his eyes at the monitor in front of him labeled ‘Main Tank’, even if it gave him no edge. He didn’t appreciate being made a fool of.

“Everything digital is my business.” Came the voice of Mainframe, matter-of-factly. “It all flows right through my head. I could read every email you’ve ever sent, if I wanted to.”

“So what? Is that supposed to impress me?” He hoped his tone carried his disdain. He cared little for the digital, really only using it when he had no other option. He would have filed paper reports if the Division allowed it. “Digital isn’t even that important. We could live without all that guff.”

Not important!? Do you live under a rock? Nothing would get done.”

He took some pleasure in that she finally sounded something other than totally assured.

“Life got on for a long time without the digital. It’s not even tangible. Not like this desk, or you or I. You can’t touch it, tasted, it or smell it.” He lifted his chin, as if daring her to challenge him.

“I touch it every day, Xavior Ericksson. As surely as you touch a sword. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real. Now I really am convinced you live under a rock.”

Xavior refused to answer, instead sitting back down in his chair, in the little room that was starting to feel more and more like a prison with each passing moment. He cared little about her words. Besides, it wasn’t as if she could-

“Judging by the horrendous typing in your reports I’m guessing you’re not very good with computers. Good thing they don’t let you lot mess with any of my systems. With my luck you’d end up crash the entire Faenet.”

He bristled again, but held his tongue against further retort. He wasn’t going to spend the next two weeks letting himself be goaded by the mysterious Mainframe. Domerin had said no complaints.

“If you really do run the entire Faenet, I’m sure you must have many more important things to be doing right now than going through my files.”

“Oh no doubt, but this is fun, isn’t it?”

No wonder his guide had told him to ignore her. He got the feeling she did this to everyone assigned down here, and he would not let his professional pride be shattered or made a mockery of. He was better than this. Instead of answering he leaned over his pad, and started to write.

“So, how long are you assigned to me?” Her voice broke into his thoughts, sounding from a speaker just to the left of the bank of monitors. She might as well have been sitting right in front of him, and he wasn’t sure he appreciated the unsettling intimacy.

“That is none of your business.” He got the feeling she didn’t care. It hadn’t stopped her from making it her business thus far.

Silence reigned long enough that Xavior thought, perhaps, he’d finally get some consideration, but then her voice returned, dripping with malevolent glee.

“Two weeks. Oh we’re going to have so much fun together, aren’t we Xavior? I can’t wait.”

Xavior grunted softly, and tried his best to focus. This might just end up being the longest two weeks in his entire life.

Sesha – The First Snowfall, Alternate

What if things had happened differently? – The first snowfall of the year.

Sesha Liatos, archmage of the warlord’s domain, peered down from one of the grand citadel’s open balconies. His gaze coolly scanned the dingy hovels clustered up against the stone walls, like refugees huddling together for warmth. They certainly needed it today.

Snow was piled high in the narrow alleys that served as streets and weighed heavily on thin roofs. The white blanket spread out as far as the eye could see, likely making travel difficult. Spindly columns of smoke rose out of rickety chimneys, the families inside no doubt trying to fight back the chill.

The year’s first snowfall had come in with a vengeance, as if the aura of Darkhaven itself influenced the surrounding weather, drawing it in like a beacon. With the recent regime change he would not have been all that surprised. The air was bitterly cold, and he pulled his fur-lined cloak closer around himself. He himself had little to worry about, safe and warm when he was in his tower, or curled under the covers of his lover’s bed.

Down below, the peasants were busy trying to clear the snowbanks that had formed between their sad houses. Snow didn’t excuse them from work. Each had a task to help feed the machine, and they would need to work even harder now that the lean times were here.

He watched impassively as a pair of children, a boy and a girl, worked beside what he assumed were their parents, shoveling snow. The boy stopped, wiping his brow, and happened to look up and caught sight of him. He pulled on the girl’s arm until she, too, stopped and looked up. They were rake thin, which wasn’t usual among their kind, and even from here he could see a sort of haunted look in their eyes.

They stared at him. He couldn’t blame them.

He stood out like a splash of brightness against the stone. The weak winter light didn’t diminish his color, or dull the jewels he wore. His wings dripped with rubies, amber, and pearls, points of cold fire running through the feathers. He’d taken to wearing more than ever these days, until he looked more like a bird of paradise than the common ravens his wings resembled. His clothes matched, rich red trimmed in gold, that draped behind him.

It was all heavy, and restrictive, but he minded less and less these days. His love preferred him this way, beautiful to the eye. The other man often hinted of just how much he loved him draped in finery, so he always tried to look his best.

He wanted Domerin to be happy with him.

Just as he was starting to feel impatience with the children’s gaze their parents saw what they were looking at and quickly pulled them away and out of sight. None of them would risk rousing his wrath, no more than they would risk angering their ruler.

He felt a presence behind him. Arms went around his middle, and lips lightly brushed his neck.

“I thought I might find you out here, Sesha.” Domerin’s tone was light, no doubt pleased to have found him. “Watching the rabble dig themselves out of the snow?”

In the past he would have balked and pulled away from the man, but instead he relaxed. The former general alone had such skill to sneak up on him, and he did so often. Without even thinking he pressed himself back against the man’s hard chest, welcoming the added warmth.

“Yes. They’re having quite the time of it.”

“They think the cold gives them a pass to be lazy. I’ve already informed them that I expect the roads to be cleared by noonday.”

No wonder they were working so hard. There would be hell to pay if the warlord himself was unhappy.

Thinking to distract his mind from the people below he turned so he could look up at the other man, slipping his arms up to his shoulders, though he made no move to extract himself from his arms.

“Were you playing with your toys last night?”

“I was. You’re not jealous are you, Sesha?” The man asked, a gentle hint of reproach in his voice. “Green does not suit a jewel such as yourself.”

“I’m not jealous,” he quickly replied. “I just-”

“Missed me?”

Sesha felt his face flush. He might have been embarassed to admit it, but the other man had always been able to read him so well.

“Yes. I did miss you, Domerin.”

A smile touched the other man’s lips, a genuine one, though there was something almost possessive about it. It sent a pleasent, tingling feeling down his spine.

“There are so many more demands on me now that I’m warlord. You understand that.”

Domerin lifted his hand, gently brushing his cheek. “Don’t forget, my darling, that you sit at my right hand, above all others. And, I know how busy you are. Far be it from me to impose on you every night, right?”

The other man was indeed busy. He softened, the words soothing him, and he smiled. It was hardly fair to try and hoard the other man all to himself.

“Yes, you’re right, of course. Just don’t work yourself too hard.”

“I would never. Besides, I can’t stay long away from your beautiful face.”

Sesha felt his cheeks heat to the praise and he couldn’t help but preen a bit, which drew a pleased smile from his companion.

“Speaking of, I have a gift for you, my lovely. Down in the dungeon I’ve got another seditious lieutenant I recently rooted out. It seems the plots against me aren’t fully spent yet. His screams have been lovely. You really should join me tonight.”

Sesha hesitated. He wasn’t all that keen on that part of Domerin’s play, always feeling off base after each time the other man talked him into joining him down there.

Perhaps sensing the reluctance, Domerin ran his hand up and down his back, causing him to shiver when the touch slid between his wings. He leaned in and whispered, breath hot against his ear.”I’ll be done with him tonight. He’ll be yours, then. I’m sure he’ll taste wonderfully. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”

Sesha couldn’t help but shiver again at the thought of it. The first time they’d let his demon feed on a living person he’d been hesitant. But it had felt so very good, and the power had been indescribable. He’d felt practically drunk on it, and the night they’d spent together after had been earth shaking. Domerin had given him such a gift in the act. As horrible as the screams had been he couldn’t help but feel desire rising inside of him.

“I admit… I feel the hunger.”

“I can see it in your eyes. We don’t want you getting hungry now, do we?”

Sesha shook his head, almost on autopilot.

“And just think,” Domerin whispered, tightening the hold he had on him for a moment, drawing the mage firmly against body, “we’ll have all night together to celebrate.”

“I would like that very much.” The words had left his lips before he’d even realized he’d said them.

“That’s wonderful! Come to me at sundown. I’ll have dinner waiting.”

“I’ll be there.”

“I cannot wait. But you should come inside, darling, you’ll catch your death out here.” Domerin drew back a bit and took up his hands, lightly rubbing them as if he could massage warmth into his chilled fingers.

“I will soon, I promise. I only wish to watch a bit longer.”

The other man looked as if he wanted to say more, but for the moment relented.

“As you wish, but don’t be overlong.”

Domerin ran his fingers along the pale skin of his hand, his touch brushing over the ring set with rubies that Sesha no longer ever took off. It was a symbol, a promise, and as the warlord gently turned the ring on his finger Sesha couldn’t help the pleasant flutter that went through him that had nothing to do with the cold.

He wasn’t sure exactly when his mix of utter frustration and desire for the man had morphed into something different. Perhaps when he’d given him the ring and asked him to sit at his side, solidifying something he’d yearned for. For years he’d never been able to get his feelings straight for Domerin Lorcasf, but now he looked at him with adoration.

True, there were times when he still balked at something asked of him, but the other man was powerful, cunning, and he made him feel such things. He’d be a fool to deny it now, when he had what he’d wanted for so long.

He nodded his promise, and lightly caught the man’s hand before he could go. “I love you.”

The man stepped in, cupping his chin and lightly lifting his face. “I know, my dear one.”

Domerin leaned in and pressed a kiss to his lips. There was hunger there, passion, and the way the man led him left him weak at the knees.

He was half clinging to him by the time they drew back and Domerin hovered close, with a smile that made his heart flutter.

“A little something to carry you through the day. To keep you warm. Remember, I’ll be waiting.”

Sesha nodded. He felt the chill again as the other man drew away, but the memory did warm him substantially. No doubt the warlord’s face would hover in the front of his mind for the rest of the day, and he already longed for his arms.

His fingers absently turned the ring on his finger, and he smiled to himself. What would he have done without the other man? He didn’t know, but he couldn’t imagine things any other way.

Domerin & Crescent – Deployment

“You don’t need to be honest with me.”

Crescent turned over in his sleep, instinctively nuzzling closer to the warmth in the bed next to him. Hazily, his mind told him something was slightly off and pulled him to wakefulness. His eyes shifted immediately to the clock, where the display read 1:45 am. It wasn’t the time that was off, but the fact that Domerin was no longer under his arm.

The other man was, perhaps, one of the very few people who could move around without waking him, but unlike some nights he hadn’t gone far. Domerin was still in bed, but sitting up with his back straight, and his hands resting in his lap. He was close enough Crescent could still feel his warmth, but he looked in a world of his own.

Some light filtered in through the windows as he shifted to look at the man’s face. Even in the low light he could see the tenseness in Domerin’s jaw, but more telling was the fact that the other man didn’t stir when he pulled himself half-up beside him.

“Can’t sleep?”

Domerin didn’t reply right away, staring across the space at the far wall, lost in thought.

Brows furrowing a bit, Crescent reached out a hand to run it across his lover’s bare leg. “Domerin. Are you all right?”

The other man seemed to come very quickly back to himself then, looking over at Crescent with a flash of surprise in his dark eyes.

“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?”

“Of course not, darling. But are you all right? Can’t sleep?”

Domerin’s momentary silence told him there was something. The other man didn’t need to sleep as much, but usually he laid in bed by his side or went to do work.

Despite the silence he didn’t press, letting Domerin speak when he chose to.

“I’m being sent out on assignment in a week. We were briefed just today.”

Was that all that was bothering the other man? Assignments had always been part of Domerin’s job.

“I’ll miss you while you’re away. Where are they sending you?”

“It’s classified. I can’t tell you any of the details.”

“Well, that’s all right. You don’t need to be honest with me, Domerin. You never did when it comes to work.” Crescent kept his tone light, not wanting the other man to think he was mad at him.

But, unlike usual, the other man’s mood didn’t lighten. Domerin turned to face him and there was something dark and pensive in his blue eyes.

His humor vanished, replaced with concern for his lover.

“Domerin? What’s wrong? This is hardly the first time you’ve gone on assignment since I’ve known you.”

“It’s different,” he said, shaking his head. “We’ve only been together, properly together for, what, a few months? I don’t know how long I’m going to be gone, or if I’ll even be able to check in with you. It’s going to be a dangerous one.”

Domerin hesitated, unable to say more than that, and for a moment he looked wretched.

“What if I don’t come back?”

The man’s words struck him. It was true that this time was different. They weren’t just casually sleeping together anymore. After far too long, they were properly dating, a proper couple. He’d never thought he’d be happy in a relationship like this, but with Domerin it all felt right.

The other man had waited so long for this, and now he had to go away, not knowing if he’d be coming back. No wonder it was troubling him.

Crescent shifted, moving to sit next to the other man. He slipped an arm around his middle.

“You can’t let that get to you, Domerin. I won’t lie to you, it’s going to be a lot harder seeing you go than it ever has been, just as I can tell it’s going to be a lot on you to go. I don’t know what I’d do if you didn’t come back, but I’m with you knowing that’s a possiblity. I know the risks involved. It doesn’t change how much I love you.”

Domerin leaned a bit into his touch, and he gently rubbed a hand across the man’s dusky skin.

“That’s good to know. I guess, after Kail, part of me still worries, even if you’re nothing like him. It was such a production every time I had to go away. He always made such a big deal out of it.”

“You wont ever have to worry about that with me. You have a duty, and the last thing you need is more stress and worry on top of everything else. I understand how important your job is.”

“Thank you for that, Crescent. It does help. And I hope I didn’t make you think I thought of you like Kail.”

“Of course not, darling.” He assured, lightly nuzzling Domerin’s arm.

The man smiled, briefly, but Crescent got the feeling there was still something else troubling him. He waited, not pressing him to speak.

After a time, those blue eyes were turned upon him again. He met them as they searched his face and he tried to project all his love through his eyes.

Lifting his hand, Domerin brushed calloused fingers gently down Crescent’s cheek.

“I have never resented what my duty asks of me. I would never turn my back on my responsibilities. I do neither now, but… I can’t help but want more time with you. Part of me wishes I wasn’t going.”

There was a tinge of guilt in the man’s voice that Crescent had never quite heard before.

“I’ve always known each mission could be my last, but every part of me wants to come back to you.”

Crescent reached up to gently brush his fingers across Domerin’s cheek in return.

“There’s nothing selfish about that. Who wants to leave their loved ones behind? I doubt even the queen would fault you for feeling that way. You’re hardly the only solider to feel guilty about having to leave and do their duty.”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I know you, Domerin Lorcasf. No matter what, you’ll do the job you are sent to do, and you’ll do it to be best of your ability. I want you to come back to me too, but you shouldn’t feel guilty for how you feel.”

“I hear you,” Domerin said, a bit more of a smile finally touching his lips. “I won’t forget. Besides, it’ll be nice to come back home to someone who isn’t going to spend the first week I’m back fussing all over me.”

Crescent couldn’t help but chuckle.

“I’ll fuss, but in a very different way. A man has to welcome his lover home properly.”

He leaned in, slipping his arms around Domerin. The other man responded and gathered him up into his arms. For a time they just sat together, enjoying the quiet and the warmth.

Eventually he leaned his head up, to press a light kiss to Domerin’s jawline.

“And, at the very least, we have an entire week to make all sorts of good memories for you to take with you.”

“I see no reason to wait.” Domerin said.

Crescent could see the hint of a smile on his lips as the other man drew him back down onto the bed.

Star Crossed

Stars blazed in the night sky

They sky above was clear and cloudless, stars blazing in the inky blackness. A figure moved beneath them, taking extra care over water-slicked rocks and uneven ground. It was a strange sight, for one with such great black wings to be crawling over the ground like a worm. It would have been but the work of a moment to fly down from Above, but there were rules, and with sentries patrolling the cliffs throughout the night he wouldn’t have had a chance if he’d taken to wing.

This was the only way down, and the winged man breathed a sigh of relief as he finally reached a sheltered cove at the base of the cliffs. He nearly wilted from the effort and stress, and nestled himself up against a rock to get his breath back. Part of him wasn’t even sure why he’d given in to the impulse to come down here, but as he drew in lungfuls of the salt-scented air, his shoulders slumped, the tension leaking out of him.

He looked up. The stars were an ever constant presence, no less here than up on the cliffs. It was comforting. They even shone on the water. There was no gently sloping shore in the cove, just a pool with a sharp drop off. The water here was calm and almost gentle, but black as pitch. It was a perfect mirror for the sky above, though the stars swayed gently on the water’s surface.

He should not be down here. Goings and comings from the aerie were very carefully controlled. Even more than that, none of the winged elves ever dared venture down from the safety of the cliffs at night. The desire to get away had finally given his feet more power than his mind, and this was the furthest spot from anyone else he could get without flying.

He picked up a rock, rolling it between his fingers for several long moments. The rough surface against his skin made things feel real. He sighed, and tossed it into the water with a little plunk. The stars shook on the surface, and he laid his head back to watch their frantic dance.

The ripples had nearly died down when the water suddenly broke once more. Another stone came flying out of the water, as if in reverse. He stared as it bounced off a rock, just inches from his head. Shaking off his shock he looked down and hesitantly took up the rock.

It was the same one he’d thrown in.

His stomach twisted, and the realization that he should not be here blossomed suddenly into his mind. Even so, he was intrigued, and tentatively leaned toward the water, seeking any shape in that black mirror.

The stars began to sway again, then folded over a head that rose from beneath the surface. The hair was black and long, flowing silkily as the water cascaded from it. A dusky-skinned, and very handsome, face followed it. The figure rose only up to his shoulders, but already the winged man could see the edges of the gill-slits that marked the necks of their watery neighbors.

He could hardly believe what he was seeing. He’d never expected to meet one of them tonight.

“Y-you’re a scal-” He bit his tongue to stop the rest. The pejorative his people used for those who lived Below was widespread, but they were generally polite enough not to use it to their faces.

The figure’s dark eyes narrowed slightly.

“A scalie?”

The man’s voice bit, and Sesha couldn’t help but wince. He’d insulted him already. Before he could say more, the man continued.

“Yes, I am. One of the brutish creatures from Below. And you’re a wingling, all knowing, who looks down on us from high.”

The sarcasm was impossible to miss.

He felt his face burn. For a moment a feeling of indigence rose in his chest. He didn’t look down on anyone, but he quickly realized he’d insulted the other man first. He supposed he couldn’t fault the merman for calling him such a name in return, nor for his displeased response.

He held up his hands in a gesture of peace.

“I’m sorry. I really am. That was very rude of me.”

He spoke honestly, and didn’t try to excuse himself. It must have carried through; the other man looked momentarily surprised, but then the frosty look melted.

“It’s all right. Though, to be honest, I expected your nose to be up in the clouds by now.”

Again his face burned, but there was plenty of truth to the words.

“I don’t really like the air up there. Sorry about the rock, too. I- didn’t hit you, did I?”

To his surprise, the merman laughed. For a moment he feared it would draw the sentries down, but the man kept his voice low, as if he were aware of the potential danger.

“Your aim isn’t that good.” The merman winked, teasing instead of insulting.

He instantly felt more relaxed, wings drooping a bit, and he couldn’t help but laugh softly in return.

“Yours is. You almost hit me square in the face. It was quite a throw.”

“Sorry.” The man smiled, giving a little shrug. “It probably helped that I could see you, even if you couldn’t see me.

“All I saw were the stars on the surface. How long were you down there?”

“Long enough. I saw you climbing over the rocks to get down here.”

The thought was a little disturbing. What lay Below was a frighting enough prospect during the day, let alone at night. Anything could have been down there. He couldn’t help but glance upward at the safety of the cliffs. It might not be too late to go back up.

When he looked back down the merman was watching him with an appraising eye.

“You don’t have to worry, you know. I’m not going to grab you and drag you under with me.”

“I-it’s not that. I just didn’t realize I was being watched. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“What are you doing down here at this time of night, anyway? I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of your people at the waterline after dark.” The merman looked more curious than suspicious.

“I just…” He trailed off for a few moments, looking down. His people would have laughed at him, but there was little point in lying to the merman. He’d probably never see him again after this. “I needed to get away for awhile, is all.”

The man arched a brow, question clear on his face.

“You wouldn’t think it, but the aerie can get stuffy at night. No one but the sentries are allowed to leave after dark, so you’re sort of trapped until sun-up. The entire sky is only a few steps away, but out of reach. I just needed a bit of space to breathe. It’s stupid, I know.”

Instead of laughing, the merman regarded him with those dark eyes of his. He moved through the water, barely making a ripple, and crossed his muscled arms on the rock ledge, resting there. He looked up at Sesha, a knowing look in his eyes.

“I know how you feel. We’re under a similar edict Below. There are guard patrols through the night, and for most the punishment for being caught isn’t worth the risk. The whole of the ocean is our domain, but we are restricted to the reef each and every night.”

The winged man’s eyes went wide. He never would have expected to find someone who understood, even more so a merman. He hadn’t known they suffered the same.

“It’s awful isn’t it? There are days I just want to fly out and never come back.”

“I feel like that too, sometimes. The ocean is vast, and there is so much unseen.”

Silence fell for a few moments, but it didn’t feel uncomfortable.

Sesha realized something and he scooched a bit forward, coming to rest at the water’s edge, nearer the other man.

“You said it wasn’t worth the risk to go out. What are you doing here, then?”

The other man grinned, a mischievous look touching his face.

“I said it wasn’t, for most. I’m not most of my fellows. I don’t follow rules very well, in case you couldn’t tell.”

Sesha was surprised to hear such an admission. He’d never heard a merman speak like this. The majority of his interactions with them had been frostily polite.It was oddly refreshing, though, and he laughed softly.

“I suppose I don’t either. But even if I can’t just fly away it helps to look up at the stars.”

The other man followed his gaze upward.

“We don’t see them like this Below, though you can see the moon some nights. It does have its own beauty.”

“I’m not sure what I’d do if I couldn’t see the sky. I admit, I’ve always thought of underwater as being very claustrophobic.”

The other man smiled gently.

“Well you would, if you’re used to walking through air. Above, everything is so light, as if it weighs nothing. Everything is ephemeral. It is rather disconcerting.”

Sesha had never considered that before. Just walking through knee-deep water felt like a slog to him, and he couldn’t help but notice the definition in the merman’s arms and shoulders.

“We must look like sticks to you.”

“Not everything is solid and hard. The water can crush, but it also lifts. You can float, if you try. There are many things Below you could only imagine. Creatures so thin and insubstantial you’d hardly know they’re there. Others that can swim far deeper than any merman. We even have our own stars.”

“You do? How?” He was intrigued.

“In our homes in the reef, we cultivate a type of plant that glows when it’s dark. We grow them across ceilings, and very often in large caverns that serve as our meeting places. Sometimes, when it’s particularly dark, they glitter just like those stars. Imagine it just like this, only you can swim up and pluck them from their place.”

“It sounds beautiful. I wish I could see it.” For a moment he forgot that all of that would have been underwater, a place he could never go, even if he had ever wanted to go beneath the waves.

“I would happily show you, but you could no more descend to see than I could visit the tops of your cliffs. I have come here many a time, wondering what is up there.”

“Oh! That’s where we keep our instruments for tracking the weather and the stars. The observers keep their base up there, and take down everything they see. No matter how many times I see it, it’s still fascinating.”

The merman was now the one listening, entranced.

“What does it look like?”

Sesha did his best to describe it; the building of stone and brass, how they traded for the metal in the far off markets, the instruments that lay within.

The other man looked wistful, and in turn spoke more of his home down Below.

Sesha lost track of time after that, burying himself in the stories they shared, but at some point he looked up and noticed the moon had drastically lowered. He’d only planned to be out here for an hour or so, but dawn would be coming soon.

“I hate to leave, but I have to head back up. I need the dark to hide from the sentries if they fly over.”

“I will also need the time as well. Getting back is not as simple as just swimming down.”

Strangely enough, neither of them moved to go. Sesha had enjoyed himself. He felt at ease with the merman in a way he didn’t think he ever had, even with his friends. It wasn’t just the stories of Below; the man’s personality was easy, and welcoming. He got the feeling the merman felt similar about him.

“We should do this again,” the merman said, meeting his gaze.

Sesha didn’t even hesitate. He didn’t care about the potential danger, not after a night like this.

He smiled.

“I’d love to. What do you say to next week, same night?”

The man looked pleased, and nodded.

“I’ll see you then. I can’t wait. You must tell me more about Above.”

He turned in the water, as if to go, but stopped and turned back, when Sesha called out to him.

“Wait! What’s your name?” They’d been talking all this time, and hadn’t even asked each other.

“Domerin.” The man smiled at him. “Yours?”

“Sesha. It’s good to meet you.”

He leaned forward, reaching his arm out over the water without fear now, holding out his hand to the other man.

After a moment Domerin enveloped it in his own. It was warm, and soft. Not like a fish at all.

They lingered there a few moments more, letting their hands rest, and smiling at each other.

Domerin gave his hand a squeeze, and then pulled gently away.

“It was good to meet you too. See you next week, Sesha.”

“Be well, Domerin.”

The merman turned. A blue tail sent splashes of stars up into the night air as he disappeared under the surface.

Sesha waited until the water had become a mirror again, smiling a bit dreamily at the star-studded surface. He couldn’t help but wonder if Domerin was down there still, watching him.

The thought no longer filled him with dread. Instead he smiled, and waved, just in case, before making his way back up the cliffs to home.

 

Episode 52 – Clipshow

FADE IN:

EXT. KING’S CASTLE – NIGHT

In the center of the kingdom stands the castle, where King Dormal rules with a fair hand. The castle and the land around is covered in a blanket of snow, bathing the land in a quiet softness. It is the last winter holiday before the new year.

DISSOLVE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

The royal family is gathered in the main room, settled on various couches and chairs. They are dressed in casual attire, no need for formality around each other. A fire burns in the hearth. Bottles of wine and mulled cider are laid out on a table nearby. A clock on the wall reads 10:30 P.M.

CRESCENT, blonde and mischievous, partner to Domerin, sits on the couch. He rests against Domerin, and he speaks animatedly.

CRESCENT

“…and I told him he wasn’t allowed to leave bodies in the kitchen anymore.”

Crescent pauses dramatically, drawing laughs from the rest.

VALERIAN, Crescent’s son, young and tanned, looking happy and full of life, holds a half-empty wine glass.

VALERIAN

(laughing)

“I don’t care how many times you tell that story, Crescent, it never stops being funny. I wish you’d tell us more about when you worked as a mercenary. There’s so much we don’t know.”

CRESCENT

“A lot of what I did back then wasn’t exactly family friendly.”

VALERIAN

“Oh come on, dad. We’re all adults now.”

CRESCENT

(grinning)

“Maybe someday, but it probably isn’t all that appropriate tonight, of all nights.”

ROSE, former Queen, still regal of bearing, has her own wine glass. Her eyes sparkle with mirth.

ROSE

“I hardly thought we’d be talking about dead bodies during the holiday.”

CRESCENT

“I’m sorry. That story is probably better in very different company.”

ROSE

(laughing)

“Oh, I know the sort of people. I’m sure they tend to have several pints in them by that point too.”

SILVERBELL, princess and only daughter of Rose. Her face is framed with curls, and she is outgoing and vivacious. She stands nearby, looking out the window.

SILVERBELL

(glancing over)

“Given how many people are drinking tonight, maybe we should have broadcast your story on the news.”

DORMAL, young king, and son of Rose and Domerin. He sits near his brother, glass of wine in hand. He has a strong, kind face, and a welcoming smile.

DORMAL

(laughing)

“And send people running out of their houses into the snow?”

SILVERBELL

“I suppose your right. And we don’t exactly want drunk people running around in the snow. It’s not coming down, but it’s pretty deep out there.”

CRESCENT

“Reminds me of that time we found that elemental. You remember, Domerin? In the middle of winter. I thought our fingers were going to fall off from frostbite.”

DOMERIN, strong elven warrior, father to Dormal, and partner to Crescent. He is relaxed and open in his family’s company, and has his arm around Crescent.

DOMERIN

“I remember that one well. It wasn’t quite frostbite levels, but it was pretty bad.”

DORMAL

“I don’t think I’ve heard that one before, father.”

DOMERIN

 “Oh, well, this was a long time ago now, back before Crescent even worked in the capital. He was still working as a mercenary and we’d contracted him to work with us on a job because he had some knowledge of the location.

DISSOLVE TO:

EXT. VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

The village stands at the foot of a grand mountain range. A thick layer of snow covers the ground, bathing the dark wooden buildings in a crusting of white.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“We had gone to this little town called Astil, near the Ramtops. They made an appeal for help, and we went in hearing stories of strange things happening in the area.”

Villagers stand outside in the snow, in front of a large wooden building, dressed in thick winter clothing. Many shift, looking nervous. The mayor addresses Domerin, Crescent, Rilan, Valia, and other members of their team.

CRESCENT (V.O.)

“They told us people had started going missing in the snow. These were people used to the area, mind. They would hear voices on the wind. Laughter rumbling down from the mountain.It was eerie.The locals said they thought had to do with this old ritual site outside town, though it hadn’t been used for centuries.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OUTSIDE VILLAGE OF ASTIL – DAY

Domerin and his group make their way up into the foothills, riding snowmobiles borrowed from the village. The landscape is breathtakingly beautiful, despite the chill, but the group keeps a sharp lookout for danger. They arrive in a circle of trees, and approach something dark.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“When we went to investigate we found this mound of stones, just under the snow, not even up to my knees. It was covered in frozen flowers. The villagers told us they put them there every year. Some sort of a tradition from long ago. The place reeked of magic. We hardly probed when all hell broke loose.”

Valia kneels in front of the mound, magic light pulsing in her hands.Everything goes still, then there is a rumble, and a shake. Air and snow begin to rush down the mountain, and swirl madly at the group. It forms into a large ice elemental.

DOMERIN (V.O.)

“Valia told us later the creature had been stirring, pulling people into the snow. She felt awful for waking it up, but everyone knew it wasn’t her fault. At the moment all we could do was fight it. We couldn’t let it run rampant. It was one hell of a fight, though. Everything was blurry with the snow, and you could smell the storm in the air.”

The elemental attacks, and the group fights back with weapon and spell. The battle is fierce, and at one point Rilan is injured. Eventually, after a long and grueling fight, the elemental dissolves into snow.

FADE IN:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

“That thing was a nightmare to take down. One of the hardest elementals I think I’ve ever fought. We’re lucky we didn’t lose anyone.”

CRESCENT

“It was lucky, though poor Rilan was sick for weeks after that. He got hit pretty bad by that thing. We all took turns going to help take care of him.”

DOMERIN

“He did, but the work got done. I haven’t heard any trouble from there since then.”

DORMAL

(leaning forward in his chair, wine forgotten)

“Sounds like it was terrifying. Part of me wishes I could have been there to see it, but I’m grateful to be where it’s nice and warm.”

VALERIAN

“Maybe I could steal you away this coming year and we could go visit.”

DORMAL

(smiling)

“That would be nice, but maybe we could aim for summertime”

VALERIAN

(grinning)

“Don’t have to tell me twice. You really should try to take some time away this year, Dormal. You deserve it.”

ROSE

(lifts her glass, eyes sparkling)

“Maybe you could even come and visit me.”

VALERIAN

(perks up)

“You should! It’s warm there, and peaceful. I could fall asleep in front of Mother’s fireplace. The nights are dark and it’s so quiet. You wake up, birds are singing. No traffic, or people pounding on your door all the time.”

ROSE

“Not usually anyway. I get callers, sometimes. I like my privacy, but I don’t mind seeing a friendly face every now and again.”

DORMAL

(wistful)

“It sounds wonderful. Maybe I will plan to come visit you later this year. It would be nice to get away from the castle for awhile, and all the things that are hard to escape. I’d love to take a walk in the woods around there.”

VALERIAN

“It’s not a crime to take a break, Dormal. Let me know when, I’ll meet you there. I can show you all around. It’s really lovely. (pauses, grinning) Well, as long as you stay away from the caves.”

DORMAL

(arching an eyebrow)

“What’s wrong with the caves?”

ROSE

“Your brother’s just winding you up, dear. There’s nothing wrong with the caves. (grins playfully) Not anymore, anyway.”

DORMAL

“You too, Mother?! Now I’ve got to know! You never told me about this one, Val.”

VAL

(laughing, holding his hands up in defeat)

“Sorry, sorry! One of the times I visited I decided to explore a bit through the woods, and  found a cave opening some ways away from her place. You know me and caves, I just can’t resist going inside.”

SILVERBELL

(tilts her wine glass toward Valerian’s face)

“Given that, and all the other things you’ve told us I would have thought you’d have had your fill of caves. Am I going to have to put a leash on you, brother?”

VALERIAN

(lightly rubs a hand over his one covered eye, though he laughs)

“As if that would work on me, Belle. Caves are a bit of an obsession of mine. Like climbing the highest tree for you. I can’t resist. Besides, I didn’t go far in alone.”

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Valerian stands just inside the mouth of a cave, daylight streaming in behind. The cave walls are covered in white chalk markings of all sorts.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The cave had been used for something, but I couldn’t tell what. So, for once, I did the smart thing and went to get mother.

CUT TO:

EXT. OVERGROWN FOREST – CAVE MOUTH – DAY

Rose and Valerian stand at the mouth of a cave. The light outside is brighter, indicating the time has changed. They examine the markings, Rose interested and pensive. They speak, and head deeper into the cave.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We went quite deep. I had explored the area when I chose to settle there, of course, but this I must have missed. It didn’t give off any sort of magical aura, and I didn’t get an ill feeling, so I thought there was no harm.”

Rose and Valerian walk the hallways of the cave, with a magic light to illuminate. Rose stops every now and then to leave a magical marking of light on the wall, to help guide them back out. The cave is beautiful.

ROSE (V.O.)

“We found more markings, though I couldn’t find any special meaning in them. I didn’t really expect to find much more than that. But, there was this massive underground lake. It was beautiful, perfectly placid. Like some sort of a forgotten shore.”

They stand looking at the lake. It extends away into the darkness.

VALERIAN (V.O.)

“The lake was; the shore wasn’t. There were these bones all over the ground, all old and brittle. They made the worst crunching, snapping noise you could imagine when we stepped on them. They were everywhere. I thought someone had been using the place to summon up ghosts with old tomes, or something of the like.”

Rose kneels down at the edge of the water, letting her hand hover over it, but not touching. Her face is reflected in the water, and she studies it, as if looking into a mirror. The water remains still and Rose stands smiling.

FADE TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

ROSE

“It used to be a place where people took the dead. I didn’t feel any ill presence, but performed a cleansing spell just to be safe. Still, I think that was the last time I’ll ever enter there.”

VALERIAN

“Same here, though I sometimes still see it in my dreams.”

A comfortable silence rests for a time. The family is relaxed with each other, having their shared lives in common.

DORMAL

“I suppose I shouldn’t pretend that Silverbell and I had a particularly eventful year. Dealing with nobles and ambassadors isn’t exactly the most exciting of things. They all think an overheard remark is cause for a gossip party.”

SILVERBELL

(waves her hand)

“It wasn’t all that bad. Actually… (she grins playfully) we did have one particularly memorable day.”

DORMAL

(thinks, then his brows raise in understanding)

“I don’t want to tell anyone about that. There’s hardly any time left before midnight. You really went to spend the rest of it embarrassing me?”

SILVERBELL

“Oh come on, Dormal. You’re only human.”

DORMAL

(draws a shallow breath)

“Fine. But when Mother demands her throne back, don’t blame it on me.”

ROSE

(laughs, looking curious)

“I don’t think you need to worry about that, darling, but this I have to hear.”

DORMAL

“It was one of those days where I didn’t have court and I was aching to get out of the palace for a bit. I told Silverbell, and she decided to do something about it. She couldn’t take me to distant lands, but she does know all the best ways to sneak out of the castle.”

SILVERBELL

“I thought an afternoon wouldn’t hurt.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – SERVANT’S HALLWAYS – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell are dressed somewhat down from their usual attire. They wait near an exit that will take them out into the city. Dormal casts a spell over the both of them that will disguise their appearance. Despite this, they must be careful, and wait many tense moments, before they can go. They head into the city.

DORMAL (V.O)

“I told the guards I was not to be bothered for the day, unless I called. I used that disguise magic that Valerian taught me, so no one would know who we were, and we just went out with no real plan.”

FADE TO:

The royal siblings walking the streets. They laugh, talk, and take in the sights, not in any rush. It’s a nice day, and Dormal looks relaxed as the walk, and aren’t bothered by anyone. They make their way to a store with a simple, unobtrusive exterior.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Everything was fine, until I thought we should stop in this little store I’d heard some of the guards talking about, that sold this amazing tea. They sold all sorts of weird little things. I actually think you’d like that store a lot Valerian. It also turns out it’s a tea shop, of sorts.”

INT. ODD SHOP – DAY

The inside of the store sells all sorts of things, knick-knacks, historical items, things from different lands. It’s full of tables, shelves, and displays full of items. Despite the strange air, and the cluttering, it doesn’t appear menacing. Along with the clutter, there is also a section devoted to all sorts of teas and tinctures the woman happily shows some.

DORMAL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say we decided to try some of the tea. It was… an experience. “

Dormal and Silverbell buy a cup each, and take a seat in the shop to drink it.As the minutes go on they start to stare around the shop with wide eyes, and every now and again they would break into giggles.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“Let’s just say I think the guards were trying this tea on on their days off. You’d think it was our first time drinking, or something. I think we were giggling by the time we left the store.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DOMERIN

(arching a brow)

“Wait, so this store was selling drugged tea?”

DORMAL

“Yes? Though I don’t think it was anything dangerous. Imagine someone wrapping you up in a fluffy rainbow and pushing you out the door. I could hear music in my head, and there were so many colors in front of my eyes. It was actually quite relaxing, in a way.”

Domerin looks torn between displeasure and amusement. Next to him Crescent’s shoulders shake with laughter, and even Rose has a twinkle in her eyes.

ROSE

“I sneaked out of the palace plenty of times, but I can’t say I ever got myself in a situation like that. You’re lucky you didn’t get yourself hurt. How did you get home?”

CUT TO:

EXT. CITY PARK – CENTRAL LAKE – DAY

Dormal and Silverbell, still disguised by magic, sit on a park bench near a small lake. There are people all around having fun, playing, reading, riding paddleboats in the lake. The royal siblings giggle and point out different things to each other. Dormal becomes concerned and hurries over to talk to some people near a group of ducks, waving his arms a bit.

SILVERBELL (V.O.)

“We walked back, eventually. I’m not even sure how long we were gone. I think we even went to the park and just sat there starting at the ducks for an hour. It felt like the right thing to do.”

DORMAL (V.O.)

“I kept telling people not to pet them, over and over. I think they thought I was crazy. I remember smiling at them, thinking I now had a duck smile to add to my repertoire.”

CUT TO:

INT. KING’S CASTLE – THE KING’S CHAMBERS – NIGHT

DORMAL

(smiles, though he looks momentarily sad)

“Looking back it’s funny, but we’re really lucky my spell didn’t wear off before the tea did. It would have been a scandal if the king and princess were found walking the streets under the influence. I don’t think I should do it again.”

DOMERIN

“It was dangerous, and it probably shouldn’t have happened. But, I think a little extra caution would have been fine.”

Rose stands and crosses the space, sitting by her son. She lays a hand on his arm.

ROSE

“Your father is right, dear. You shouldn’t change who you are, or suppress those desires. You know how to handle yourself, just be a little more cautious next time. And, perhaps, don’t let your sister choose the tea.”

SILVERBELL

(laughing)

“Hey! Well, I guess that’s fair enough.”

DORMAL

(smiles)

“Thank you mother. I’m always grateful for your advice.”

The family settles back in, enjoying their wine, and chatting.

The clock strikes the hour, letting off a cheerful chime.

DOMERIN

(hugs Crescent close, and kisses him lightly)

“Happy new year everyone. I can’t think of anyone better to pass the night with.”

Everyone toasts to that, rising and exchanges hugs and kind words for the year to come. Silverbell moves to the window, peering out. The midnight air is dancing.

SILVERBELL

“It’s snowing! The first snowfall of the year.”

The rest of the family rises and joins her, and they watch the snow falling on the courtyard, as distant fireworks sound the arrival of the new year.

CRESCENT

“Let’s make it a good one.”

FADE TO BLACK

Separate Truths

Everybody knows – A different universe

The office was blissfully quiet. The constant whir of the ship’s machinery formed a familiar and comforting background hum. The only other sounds to break the silence were the soft tapping of fingers on keys, and the occasional creak of wicker.

Crescent was curled up in his basket at the foot of Domerin’s desk, resting as the man did his work. He was in dozing when he heard Domerin grumble softly, and give a sigh.

His ears perked up, swiveling toward the sound, and he lifted his head to look at the man. Domerin was frowning at his display.

“Bad news?”

Domerin knew how easy he was to wake by now, but it was never an issue because he always fell back asleep seemingly just as easily. It was normal for a kattar, and didn’t bother him.

“Not like you’re thinking.”

“Oh?”

“It’s a message from one Laran Imril, asking me if I wouldn’t do him the great honor of visiting to train his kattar. He’d be ever so grateful.” Domerin’s voice took on a slightly mocking tone at the end.

“Another one? You’ve been getting an awful lot of those lately.” Crescent’s ears swiveled back slightly. After helping that first, they’d known this was likely going to happen sooner or later, but it seemed word had really started to spread.

“Oh yes, and this one’s a prince too, on some world or another. He made a point to impress upon that. He has six kattar, considered royal pets. Apparently there was an incident,” the man let the implied quotes hang in the air a moment, “involving a trainer they brought in, and he recently heard about me and my skill.”

Domerin’s expression turned a bit stormy, the man more expressive than he might have been in other company.

“Six kattar is a lot…” He didn’t want to push, but it was rare to find more than two or three in one place.

“It is, Crescent, but we can’t just drop everything with a job coming up.”

“I wasn’t suggesting that. I’ve never questioned that the larger job comes first.”

Domerin was silent, lips touched with the hint of a frown.

Crescent could sympathize. This decision was cut and dry, when you looked at it logically, but it wasn’t so easy when you took in the big picture.

He hopped out of his basket, moving to gently bump his head against Domerin’s arm, lightly nuzzling him in one of his ways of offering comfort. After a few moments Domerin’s gloved fingers slid behind one of his ears, rubbing gently. He always hoped petting him helped soothe the other man.

“Sometimes I wonder if this was the right way to go about things,” Domerin said after a time, his voice soft. The man was looking down at him now, his eyes a bit dark.

“What do you mean?”

Domerin sighed. “In the email he said my name was brought up at a party, and that every one knows me as ‘the kattar whisperer’.” There was a hint of disgust in his voice when he said it. “The guy you could call in to bend your animal to your will. A real miracle worker.”

Crescent grimaced. Two-legs really didn’t understand things that weren’t like them. He gave Domerin a sympathetic look.

“I can’t say I’m surprised. We knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant when we decided to go forward with it. I just try to remember it’s for a good purpose.”

“Of course, and I don’t regret doing this. That still doesn’t mean I’m comfortable being thought of like that. Everyone knowing I’m a grumpy hard-ass is one thing. This is quite another. They might as well be calling me a good slave trainer.”

“That’s true.” Crescent’s ears laid back against his head for a moment, and he laid his hand on Domerin’s arm.”I’m sorry, Domerin. I know that can’t be easy.”

“It’s not, but my name has been tarnished before. I can take it.” The man looked very tired for a few moments, though.

Crescent moved to stand, and slipped his arms around Domerin’s neck, leaning close to him. The other man smoothed his gloved fingers over the fur of his arm a few moments later, looking contemplative before he went on..

“Things are changing, in ways even I didn’t expect. I had a message come through last week from a company I’ve worked with before, saying they don’t want to continue our association, since I’m promoting the exploitation of exotic pets, as they put it.” A wry smile touched the man’s lips for a moment. “I guess it’s good at least some companies have ethics.”

“I didn’t realize it would have an impact on the company like that.” They couldn’t always go anywhere to get what they needed, and losing a contact could be a blow. “I never wanted to make things harder for you.”

Domerin shook his head.

“Don’t let it worry you. That’s just how things go, and you well know I couldn’t have stood by and done nothing.”

Crescent did know, and he thought all the more of the other man for it. He gave the man a gentle squeeze.

“Even so, you’re not in this alone. I know the sort of man you are, and so do the others. If you are the kattar whisperer, think of it like this: among us, you will never be the whip, the rope, the bars of our cages. You’re the hand that’s helping give us the key to freedom. Time will reveal all, and we will never forget your name. For now, we will whisper it to each other, in our own tongue, from ear to ear, until the day comes when we can speak it aloud.”

Domerin looked up and him, and the hint of a small smile had touched his lips.

“Thank you, Crescent, it does help to hear you say things like that.”

“Its only the truth,” he returned, nuzzling the top of the man’s head lightly. “Everybody knows that.”

You Are My Sunshine

The commander’s quarters often hummed with a quiet sort of energy. Robin Lorcasf had spent so much time here that they were like a second home to her. Today, though, the quiet felt unusual, lacking the familiar comfort that had built up with it over the years.

She couldn’t help but notice the way her father’s eyes kept straying to her left hand, lingering on the gold band that now circled her ring finger. Domerin had celebrated the news when she’d revealed that she and Daniel were going to be getting married. He’d hugged her, smiled, laughed.

But now, as they sat on the couch with each other she saw the way his hands played over the beer bottle he’d opened. The tenseness in his body, and the sadness he tried so hard to conceal behind his eyes. She didn’t doubt that her father was genuinely happy for her, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t dying inside. This was why she’d come alone to tell him. He didn’t need the added stress of Daniel Barrett on his doorstep.

“Hey, Daddy,” she said, reaching over to lay a hand on his arm, “are you okay?”

“I’m fine, Sunshine,” he said, pulling his eyes up from her hand, giving her a little smile. “It’s a lot to take in. There’s a lot of stuff that goes along with planning a wedding. Or at least, so I’ve heard. I haven’t exactly had any myself.”

Robin knew her father wasn’t fine, and pressed back a little bit. She wasn’t here to go on and on about wedding plans.

“I know, and I’ll deal with all that when the time comes. You do know that I want you involved in all of this, right?”

“Of course. I’ll help with whatever you want me to, and if there’s things you want to do on your own, you just need to tell me.”

Robin got the feeling her father half expected her to elope somewhere, to never been seen again. He’d always worried about her leaving, and she could only imagine what must be going through his mind right now.

“Well, the honeymoon, probably, ” she said, her voice very gently teasing. “We want to make a little vacation out of it. But we’ll be coming back home after that. It’s not like we’re planning to move away.”

Her father’s face twitched, pain and sadness leaking through the mask he often wore.

“You shouldn’t be so quick to say that,” he said, though he was looking down at his hands. “You don’t know what’ll happen if you decide to have kids. This life isn’t exactly the best for little ones. Growing up in space, and on a mercenary ship, no less.”

“I grew up here.”

“Yes, but was that really the best upbringing for you? There were so many things I couldn’t give you.”

This was hardly the first time her father had said this, and it seemed the ghost of it still haunted him.

“Is that what you really think? I loved growing up here, and living with you. You did everything you could to make sure I was well taken care of, and happy. And I am happy. I don’t regret my childhood. I turned out all right, didn’t I?”

“Of course you did, but that’s not the point. You’re young and free to live your life. You can do whatever you want with it. You can go anywhere, and grow your family. Besides, if you’re married, Daniel does get a say too.” As much as her father didn’t seem to like that idea.

“What if I told you that one of my conditions for agreeing marrying him was that we would stay with the Dragons? That we would stay here on the Heart?”

Her father’s brows furrowed in question, the hint of a frown touching his lips.

“You don’t have to stay for my sake, Sunshine,” he said, his voice very soft. “You shouldn’t make decisions like that based on me. I’ll be fine if you leave. I can take care of myself.”

Robin shook her head, giving her father a reassuring little smile.

“I’m not, Daddy. I want to stay because this is my home. The home I love. Do you remember how homesick I got when I first came to live with you? How much I ached for Wells?”

Her father said nothing, just nodded.

“That’s how I would be if I went anywhere else now. This life is hard, but I love it, and I don’t want to ever leave it. Besides,” she said, giving her father’s hand a squeeze, fixing her eyes on him, “I don’t want to ever leave you, either. You’re… you’re afraid that I will, aren’t you?”

He didn’t answer her right away, and she didn’t rush him, giving him all the time he needed. When he finally looked at her all that pain and anguish was plain to see in his eyes.

Her heart went out to her father. How painful would it be to live all these years thinking that your closest family would one day leave you alone?

“I always… thought it was inevitable that one day you’d leave.” Domerin’s voice was so soft she almost had to strain to hear it.

“At first, I thought you’d want to go back to Wells, to live with your aunt. I couldn’t always understand why you liked it here so much. There’s no wind, or horses, or any of that stuff you like. Then I thought you’d want to leave to go to school somewhere, or because some passing planet caught your interest.What teenager wouldn’t want to explore? What young woman would want to stay here and join her father’s mercenary company and fight in a war? How could I compete against the universe? But you stayed.”

The man went quiet, looking down. His voice was no louder when he spoke next.

“I always thought you get tired of all this. I thought-” His voice hitched, and he drew in a soft breath. “I thought you’d get tired of me. And, as you got older, why would you need me, if you had a family of your own?”

She could just imagine what he must be thinking, and it broke her heart to consider it.

“I can’t blame you for worrying, daddy, even now that you’ve got Crescent. But, I will never, ever get tired of you. In all the years we’ve been together, has there ever been anything that’s made me want to leave?”

They’d had plenty of problems over the years, their share of family issues and fights, but they’d always been able to mend things. No world, no school, no man, had ever made her want to leave her life here.

“No, and I know. I just- don’t want you to feel like you have to stay if you don’t want to. I know the sort of man I am. I’ve never claimed to be the best father.”

“You don’t have to claim it for it to be true. You’re the best father to me. Isn’t that what matters?”

Domerin remained silent, and though some of the worry seemed to ease out of him, there was still a bit of sadness in his eyes.

“Still, Robin, you can’t completely promise me that you might not leave one day. You don’t know your future self. In ten years, twenty, in eighty, you might still go. I just, want you to know that, if that’s what you want, I won’t try to stop you. I want you to be happy.”

Robin didn’t like the thought of leaving her father, but she nodded.

“I know, and you’re right, daddy. One day things might be different and I might decide that I have to go. But right now, and for the future I can see, that day will never come. I don’t just want you in my life, I want you in my life like you’ve always been. Me getting married isn’t going to change that. Me having kids isn’t going to change that. You’re not in competition with the universe, or Daniel. You are my family, and you will always be my family. Whatever I might grow, you’re a part of that.”

Her father seemed to relax a bit more, the sadness fading. She slipped her arms around him so she could give him a hug and after a moment he shifted a bit to put his arm around her in return. For the moment she stayed there, resting gently against his side.

They were silent, for a time.

Finally, Domerin spoke, a hint of humor in his voice.

“And Danny-boy agreed to all this?”

Robin couldn’t help but laugh softly.

“I wouldn’t marry a man who didn’t understand and respect how important my relationship with you is. I might wear the ring he gave me, but I’ll always be your Sunshine.”

Domerin gave her a little squeeze, and she smiled, laying her head on his shoulder. The silence returned, but this time it was familiar, and comfortable, just for the two of them.