Friday, May 11, 2012

Monthly Story Treat #5

by Vanya D.


My hand trembled as I frantically punched in Derek’s number, sticky red liquid dripping from my fingers onto the phone's LED display.
I squeezed my eyes shut and pressed the cell to my ear, listening for the signal. My breathing was hoarse and uneven, my mind felt like scrambled eggs and my heart hammered hard against my ribs – none of it was a good sign.
Hey, beautiful!” Derek’s voice came from the other side of the line. He sounded cheerful and carefree, and for that I envied him. “Miss me already? Two days must be a horribly long time to spend without me…”
I could vaguely tell he was being cocky, but teasing was the last thing I needed right at this moment. Not when I knew that every time I looked down I'd be greeted by the same lumpy outline, crumpled at my feet.
Y-you told me to call you if something unusual happened again.” I muttered, voice shaky and unsure.
Background noise sounded on his side of the line – some crackling, cabinets opening, whatever. I wished I was at home too – if not at my apartment, then at his. But the moon was at its fullest tonight, and being a Moon Binder, I couldn't risk staying around people.
Which didn't explain why I was in the city. In fact, it only raised questions. Because the last thing I remembered clearly was watching the sea from my cave by the shore, where I usually spent the nights of the full moon – and now I was not.
What’s wrong, babe? You sound stressed out.”
I tried to swallow past the lump threatening to clog my throat. “I’m in the city.” I said, knowing that he’d understand what that meant without much elaboration. This wasn't the only time I'd needed help, but it was the first time I ever found myself next to a dead body with blood on my hands.
There was silence on the other side.
Where?” He finally asked, and this time I knew exactly what he was doing. The clomping of his heeled boots reached my ears plainly. Then I heard the door slamming shut.
He was coming.
West third street, behind the ‘7 eleven’ on the corner of Churchill avenue.” I breathed in relief.
He was coming.


When I rushed out of the apartment it was way past midnight. Thankfully, the ‘7 eleven’ Rebecca mentioned was only a ten-minute drive away. Last time something like this had happened, she’d been completely lost in the ruined part of the city, and it had taken me forever to find her.
Dread seeped into my heart as I sped toward the place. By the time I got there, it felt like ages had passed since she called. The street and the stores were all dark, a single blinking sign announced that the shop next door was closed.
Beck?” I called out in the direction of the single dark alley. If this was the right place, then she should be somewhere around here.
Except nobody answered. It was as quiet as hell on All Hallows Eve.
Beck?” I tried again louder, taking a careful step between the buildings.
Overflowing dumpsters assaulted my senses at once, spreading putrid fumes everywhere. I stumbled back, my eyes straining to distinguish any shape in the murkiness before me.
Rebecca, are you there?” I coughed out, beginning to wonder if this wasn't all a sick joke.
My hand slid into my pocket to retrieve my phone when movement answered from deep within the alley, like a wooden crate sliding over wet pavement. Then the silence returned, gloomier and more depressing than before.
Goosebumps prickled at the back of my neck, and a single drop of sweat trailed down my left temple.
If this was how I felt though – a man grown and trained in heavy combat fighting – I couldn’t imagine how frightened Rebecca must’ve been when she’d found herself in this alley instead of her moonlit cave on the seashore.
And she was nothing like me. She wasn't tough or experienced – just the opposite. She was delicate and breakable, and beautiful. With hair the color of the moon – long and shiny like velvet – she reminded me of an ancient goddess. Her voice was the melody of life itself, and her eyes –
A moan interrupted my thoughts.
Rebecca?” My voice rose again, as I hurried into the darkness.


I was more confused than frightened when I found myself in this alley, but when my hand closed around the smooth handle of the moonblade, the scales tipped. Fear engulfed me as I realized I wasn't alone in my body. Violence was never part of my nature, but it was part of hers, and now the blood she spilled was on my hands.
The Moon goddess.
I was her last Binder – a sole survivor of the genocide war with the humans – and I should've known that she would try to take over what was left of her inheritance. Yet I'd been so consumed in my own thoughts and desires that I hadn't noticed when she'd wriggled inside my skin. The worst part was that with the moon full she had complete control of my body, while I was only along for the ride.
That's when I heard his voice – thick and solid like a rock, yet soft and gentle like the sea foam.
Rebecca, are you there?” Derek called, and the sound of his voice alone seemed strong enough to push the parasite deity away, even if only temporarily.
My sandals skidded on the wet pavement as I tried to stand up from the wooden crate where I'd sat while I waited for him. All I could manage though was to fall onto my butt, just a couple of feet away from the dead guy whose soulless eyes still stared at me in the darkness. She'd sacrificed him – her mark visible on his forehead – a small shiny crescent that raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
Rebecca?” Derek called again, this time louder, and I turned to look toward the alley's mouth. It was only slightly brighter than here, but it was enough for me to see his outline moving in my direction.
Derek.” I whispered softly, relief washing over me.
Then the world around me stilled, like I'd paused a motion picture in the middle of an action scene.
I want him. A demanding voice sounded in my head. He shall be mine.
No.” I protested aloud, dread filling my heart. “No!” I yelled, my soprano shattering the stillness into pieces, but the voice of the Moon chanted on.
He shall be mine. He shall be mine. He shall be mine.
No!” I bellowed, fully aware that rebelling wouldn't stop the goddess's intentions. She always found a way to take what she wanted and this time would be no different.


Her shrill voice was like a war signal in the darkness, echoing around the empty brick walls with the force of gunfire. That couldn't be good, especially because I'd never heard Rebecca raise her voice even once in the three years since we met.
Beck?” I called again, searching the shadows for a sign of her until I spotted a figure huddled against one wall.
Her head was turned in my direction, but I wasn’t certain that she actually saw me. I noticed that her hands were pressed against the sides of her head, and I could hear her chanting a ceaseless string of “No's”.
Sweetness, I'm here. Come, let's get you home.”
A wide smile stretched her lips, as her eyes focused on me. “Derek?” But it wasn’t her gentle voice I heard. Then she shook her head and her expression changed. “No! You must go!”
What do you mean go? I came for you Rebecca, and I'm not leaving without you.” I protested, kneeling before her.
That's when I saw the knife in her hand and recognized it as the binders' ritual blade. Made of pure crystal, precisely seven inches long, with a slight curve in the middle, it was the perfect sacrifice tool.
I sucked in a breath. “What are you doing with a moonblade, Beck?”
Run.” She whispered with an urgent voice as the knife rose and then plunged into my chest hungrily, cutting flesh and spilling blood.
She betrayed you, a foreign voice spoke in my head. You saved her – loved her and she turned on you...
Somehow though, I couldn’t believe it. Not even when I looked down and saw her tiny hand still clenched around the blade’s handle. When my gaze returned to her face, it was twisted in a grotesque grimace, jaws clenched tightly and eyes bathed in blinding light.
Rebecca isn't here anymore.”An icy voice crooned, brushing against my chilled face. “Only I am.”
Who...?” I began, but the blood in my mouth didn't let me continue.
I'm the goddess of the Moon, and I've come to claim your life.”

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Monthly Story Treat #4

e-novella written by Vanya D.

Chapter 3


I couldn't believe my ears when I heard her voice in the foyer below. At first I thought I was dreaming again, or worse – hallucinating. It had happened before when I'd first gotten here. I'd missed her so much. And still I never for a second regretted my actions. I'd done what I had to do. What any good leader in my place would have done.
Dawn's voice suddenly turned sharper and louder. “You can't write my name in there! I'm. Not. Dead!” She proclaimed, pronouncing each word as if it were a separate sentence. A small smile twitched at the corner of my mouth. She was still the feisty little thing that I remembered her as.
The only question was why was she here? Was she dead? She'd clearly denied it, but newcomers always did. Besides, my death should have secured the life of my Crew. So what was Dawn doing in Spectrum? Had she found out who and what she was? If that were the case, we were threading in dangerous waters already.
I rushed out of my office, taking the ever-changing, restless tree-root stairs two at a time, hoping that I wouldn't accidentally find myself sprawled face down on the foyer's hard floor. Before I knew it, I was standing at the foot of the staircase, staring at the back of the girl that I'd intended one day to marry. The girl I'd denied myself for the greater good of the Crew. The girl who had now followed me unto death.
She was being held tightly in the arms of Reuben, one of the death gate's Sentries. Usually he knew his manners, but apparently this wasn't one of his strong times. Dawn was struggling against him, trying hard to get free from his grasp, but she was tiny compared to him, and none of her elbowing and kicking techniques were successful.
Let go of me, damn you!” She yelled and delivered yet another elbow in Reuben's stomach. He didn't even flinch.
Tasha, the newcomers' receptionist was looking at the two of them with a deep frown, as if she'd just been robbed of the best portion of her cherry pie. It would've been quite amusing, if not for Dawn's exasperated struggles.
Reuben! Tasha!” I heard myself say loudly, my words ricocheted by a thousand tree bark surfaces, which made the sound roll around the foyer like an echo. They both turned to look at me with stunned expressions on their faces. Perhaps they were wondering why I was down here, messing with their business. Or perhaps they felt intimidated that I'd caught them in the middle of doing something not entirely by protocol.
Dawn must have waited for just the right opportunity to get herself out of Reuben's grip, because with a sudden move she was free and even kicked him in the shin, setting him to hop around the foyer.
You asked for it, asshole!” She exclaimed, and even though I could only see her back, I was sure that she was beaming in satisfaction. I agreed with her fully, the Sentry had asked for it.
Yet, when she proceeded to kick him again, I knew I had to intervene. “What's going on here?” I demanded, placing a hand on Dawn's shoulder. She stiffened as if I'd struck her across the face.
Then she suddenly sucked in a breath and in a tiny whisper said my name.
I squeezed her shoulder lightly, and guided her before me toward the stairs.
But Sentinel, sir, she hasn't signed her name in the book of the dead!” Tasha said with an incredulous expression. “She can't walk around like this! She isn't marked!”
I sighed mentally. This woman never learned, did she? And no wonder – she'd held this position for centuries. “Tasha, we agreed on the new protocol, did we not? You can't sign a person in the book unless I verify first that they are indeed, dead.”
But, she's here!” The receptionist protested more vigorously, pointing a finger at Dawn. The way she saw it, I was being blasphemous. “She's in Spectrum, she – ”
You know our realm has guests sometimes.” I said, cutting her off. “But I can assure you that if she is here to stay, then you can sign all of her names in the book and mark her accordingly.” I said dismissively, glaring at the receptionist who didn't look pleased by my words.
She mumbled something indistinguishable under her nose, making me raise my brows in question. “Okay, sir. As you say, sir.” Then she shut the book closed and taking it under her arm scurried out of the building, Reuben following close at her feet.
My eyes went back to Dawn, who hadn't moved or said anything since she recognized me. “Come with me.” I said simply and walked around her toward the staircase, giving her the choice to follow me when she was ready.
Is it really you?” Her pained voice reached me as I climbed the first stair.
A heavy sigh escaped my lips. I'd never thought it would come to this – me explaining why I was here, why I'd died... why I'd left her. “Yes.”
So.. so this really is the realm of the dead?” She asked, as if she hadn't believed it until now.
But everything, everyone feels so... so alive!” You feel alive is what I knew she wanted to say. “How is it possible?”
Come with me Dawn, and I'll tell you. I'd rather not do this out here.” Yeah, as if anywhere would be a good enough place. But at least I was sure no one would listen in on our conversation if we were in my office.

~ D a w n ~

So you are dead.” I said as Connor muttered something to the opening we'd just gone through. His words must have had a meaning, because from all sides of the opening, huge vines stretched, twisted and knotted together, until there was no space left to even see through. I imagined the constant moving and shuffling of the leaves muffled any sound that might drift outside of this room, but I wasn't sure that was comforting.
Inside, the room was spacious, with a live desk that constituted a tree trunk that came out of the floor, then merged with it once again. There was a couch and a couple of chairs that seemed to move around of their own accord. I contemplated sitting, but then changed my mind.
Yes.” He said again, in that sweet voice of his, which would've swept me off my feet if I weren't already annoyed at his monosyllabic responses. I mean, what was wrong with him? Did he know nothing but plain old 'yes'?
Connor was standing in much the same position as me – arms crossed before the chest, feet slightly apart for better balance, face screwed in a deep scowl – with the only difference that he was brave enough to lean onto his tree desk. I could not risk it, because the memory of those hungry vines slithering toward my fingers was still fresh in my mind.
But I couldn't not appreciate the sight that he was. White linen shirt stretched over pure muscle, a glimpse of which I could see because the top of the shirt was lavishly unbuttoned. His pants were made of black leather, sown precisely for the shape of his legs. His feet were wearing comfortable-looking suede boots that reached up to Connor's mid-calf. Perfectly normal garb.
Are you dead?” He asked then, pulling me away from my visual inspection. Unfortunately, I hadn't paid much attention so I couldn't quite put the intonation of his voice. Was he pleased? Or curious? Or regretful?
My nose wrinkled in distaste. “No. Of course I'm not.” I could feel the steady rhythm of my heart, soft and distant, but nevertheless steady.
He arched a brow, then quickly composed his face. “Then why are you here?”
I rolled my eyes. Same exact questions I'd heard downstairs. “Because you screwed up as a Chief and now the whole Crew is in danger. That's why.”
This time, when his brows shot up in bewilderment it was more permanent, then they dropped down, bringing a deep frown upon his face. “I'm not sure I'm following your thoughts here.”
Of course you aren't. 'Cuz it doesn't suit your purposes.” I snapped, irritated by his sudden show of concern. I'd nearly expected him to laugh in my face, so seeing his forehead crease with worry almost took me off guard. Almost. “You died, and everything turned bright and sunny for you. You know, being a Sentinel and all that. Now the living have to carry the burden of your disgusting deals with the Seelie court. You didn't care much about it while you were alive, so don't pretend that you do now that you're dead.”
What the hell are you talking about?” Connor said, his face a mask of astonishment.
Valiant. I'm talking about Valiant. Does the name ring any bells?”
Of course it did. The sudden twist in his features told me so.
Dawn.” He said calmly, shaking his head like I had missed something quite obvious in the whole sequence of events. “My debt to the Seelie prince was paid in full with my death.”
Yeah, right.” I said more to myself, but he heard me anyway and scowled.
His eyes hardened on mine. “Yes. That is right.”
Then how do you explain the debt that Eric-as-Chief is now pursued to fulfill?” I snapped at him, glaring through the lens of kindling anger.
I wouldn't know, would I? I've been dead for months, remember?”
Which doesn't mean you didn't leave a deal unpaid for.” I retorted.
He looked at me for a second too long before responding. “But I didn't. I did what I was supposed to do to keep my Crew safe.”
And look how well that worked out.”
Connor sighed and shook his head in what I could only perceive as remorse. But remorse for what? “So what exactly is going on out there?”
Not so fast, I thought. “I have a few questions of my own, you know.”
I'm sure you do.” He said nonchalantly. “But you must agree they're of lesser importance if, as you say, the Crew is in danger.”
I was about to tell him that I must agree to nothing, but I thought it better to just close my mouth and listen. So I just nodded. “Okay. What do you want to know?”
A tiny part of me had wished that he'd ask how I was before saying anything else. But he didn't. Connor was all business.
For starters, just tell me everything you know.”
I rolled my eyes. Yeah, for starters.
After you died, Valiant had made an appearance before the newly selected Chief.” I began.
That'd be Eric?”
Yes.” I almost snapped, but held my tongue at the very last moment. “Valiant had demanded that your debt be paid in the act of accomplishing what you hadn't done.”
And what would that be? Since I did fulfill my part of the deal.”
I glared at him silently for a long moment. “Perhaps if you just let me tell the story, you wouldn't have to ask.”
He lifted his hands up in surrender. “Stage is all yours, babe.”
I winced, but tried to hide it behind a deadly look. Firstly, he knew that I hated it when people patronized me. He'd suffered for it not just once. And second, calling me babe after all that had happened was just... slightly... well, weird to say the least.
The Seelie prince had wanted Eric to open the door to a certain house he had purchased. Apparently, the house was somehow sealed, so neither Valiant nor anyone on our Crew had been able to crack its defenses. Not even the witch.”
But you did.” Connor finished my thought, as if he'd known all along. Or perhaps he just pieced it together right now.
I nodded, but before I could go on with the story, Connor crossed the distance between us and grabbed me for the shoulders, all the while looking at me dangerously and asking a gazillion questions.
Which gate was it? Did you close it? When is he coming?”
I wasn't sure I was getting all his words in order, because he was shaking my entire body and my thoughts felt jumbled up. I feared that he might damage my internal organs, but then I remembered they were intact outside of Spectrum.
Connor.” I said, pushing at his chest with both my hands. It was no use. He was in a trance-like state, where all he seemed to care for were the answers to his questions. “F-for good-d-dness s-sak-ke, let-t go-o of me-e!” My teeth made a horrible rattling noise, cutting up my words into pieces and biting down on my tongue in the most inappropriate way. I felt like a puppet, commanded by a wicked puppeteer.
It wasn't until I slapped him in the face that he regained control of himself. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I asked and slid down to sit on the floor. I held my head with both hands, hoping that my world would grow still sometime soon.
What's wrong with me? You just told me you'd opened a door to this place from the outside world! A door to which Valiant has wanted access since forever! Do you know how long it took me to seal all gates so that no one could open them from the outside unless they were dead?”
I grunted but didn't shake my head. Talking was my preferred means of communication for the moment. “You're not really listening to me, are you?”
Of course I'm listening!” He snapped indignant, pacing back and forth from the window to where the door had once been and back again.
If you were, then you'd know that had I truly opened the door, you wouldn't be talking to me right now.”
Connor froze in his tracks. “What are you saying? Did you or did you not open that door?”
I lifted my head so I could look at him. “Of course not. I just went thru, if that's even possible. I don't have instructions to open the door.”
Then why are you here?” He said dubious.
Because...” I began, but felt too small and diminutive while sitting on the floor. So I took my time to stand up, pat my pants dust free, and look him in the face. He was still a head taller than me, but at my full height I didn't feel like a dwarf anymore. “I'm here because Eric ordered me to figure out why Valiant wants to get on this side of the door so much. He thought that perhaps we could find a way to fulfill the debt without giving the prince what he's bargained for.”
Connor nodded, thoughtful. I could see ideas building in his mind, expanding on what I'd just told him. “How long do we have?” He said finally.
I sighed. “I'm afraid that's the problem. We only have until dawn.”
Suddenly, his mouth stretched in a wicked smile. “Then it's a good thing that time is virtually nonexistent here.”
“Does that mean we have forever to figure things out?”
“Not really. But let's say we have enough time to do what we must.”
Uh-huh.” I muttered, having no idea why he thought things were so fortunate for us. After all, if Eric didn't have that door open up for Valiant before dawn came... No, I can't think like that. “What are you planning to do exactly? You don't know how Valiant has managed to trick Eric with a Chief debt that's already been paid.”
I don't need to know. I know what the original debt was, and I know that it was paid. Now I only need to call on justice.” Only it seemed like he meant Justice, as in a proper noun.
With that said, Connor stepped toward the vines where the door had been and spoke to them once more. When they pulled aside, he went out of the room, leaving me to stare at the place where he'd been just a moment ago.
You coming or staying, Challenge?” Connor said with a smirk, as his head suddenly poked back in the room.
I couldn't resist smiling at the invitation. Especially since he used my middle name. I loved being called Challenge. When he offered his hand, I didn't hesitate to take it, and he pulled me close to his body, where I could feel each muscle constrict, every breath he took, every beat of his heart. How could he be dead? I wondered, because everything about him screamed 'alive'. In fact, he seemed more vitalized than I'd ever seen him in our realm. Like this place had somehow revived him.
Where are we going?” I asked, because one, I had to distract my mind from the closeness of his body, and two – he was leading me in the opposite direction of the stairs and foyer that I'd already been to.
You'll see.” He said mysteriously, tugging me deeper into the tunnel of intertwining vines.
Connor?” I blurted out suddenly, the question that I'd been dying to ask forming on my lips.
He looked at me sideways, a strange sparkle playing in his eyes. “Yeah?”
Don't look so smug, or I swear I'll – ”
You'll do what?” He cut me off abruptly, and with one swift motion pinned me to the wall. The vines seemed to have been waiting just for the slightest contact, because instantly, my hands were bound securely to the network of leaves and branches that made up the walls and ceiling.
Luckily, my legs were unbound and I knew pretty well how to use them. Gathering all my strength to my upper body, I bounced on my heals and swung both my legs in the air where Connor's head was. But the bastard was fast. He moved aside just before impact, then caught my legs in midair and slowly lowered them to the floor, where the hungry vines circled around my ankles, rendering me practically immobile.
Tsk, tsk. You've not changed one bit, sweetheart. Still so passionate, so feisty. I love it when you get that vengeful gleam in your eyes.” Connor said, moving dangerously close into my personal space. He lifted a hand and placed it on the side of my face, then he traced down my cheekbone and chin, and somehow ended at my lips.
And the worst part of it was that my entire being was waiting, longing for him to come even closer, and to seal our reunion with a kiss. My mind knew it was wrong, that he was dead while I was still alive. That he belonged to this world, while I didn't. But I didn't care. All I wanted was to be in Connor's embrace again. To feel his skin on mine, his heart pumping hard inside his chest, as if he'd run a marathon just by looking at me.
When his face descended toward mine, my eyes closed of their own accord, in anticipation of the sweet kiss that was sure to follow. Only it never came.
Sentinel!” Somebody's panting voice disrupted the moment, leaving me furious and longing and thoroughly frustrated.
What is it, Gabriel?” Connor said, suddenly alert. My heart felt empty as he pulled away, but his words seemed to dispel whatever silent command the vines had been following, and I felt my wrists and ankles go free of all binding.
I opened my eyes, so I could look at the intruder and glare at him. He was a boy of sixteen, perhaps seventeen. But something about his posture and the look in his eyes told me that he was much much older than that. He wore much the same kind of clothes that Connor did, except they didn't look so good on him. His figure was tall and lean, and the linen shirt hung on his frame freely. By the looks of it, it was at least two sizes larger. And the pants were sky blue instead of black, held to his waist by a massive belt. The only item of clothing that didn't differ from Connor's were the suede boots.
Gabriel looked at me, accusation plainly written on his face. I knew well what that expression meant, but I wasn't about to acknowledge it. After all, I wasn't an intruder. I was a Hunter on a mission. So what if I'd sort of sidestepped it a little?
The stinkin' Seelie hogs, my Lord.” Gabriel said, bowing slightly in Connor's direction, while all I could think of was Lord? Seriously? “They've found a weak spot in the barrier and are ravaging the land!”
What land? I thought, remembering the wild, desolated vastness outside of the city. If that's what they were ravaging, then I'd certainly leave them to it.
Where?” Connor inquired, stepping into his Sentinel role swiftly.
Gabriel was pointedly staring at me, as if he preferred not to tell the news with me standing in earshot.
Connor followed his gaze, one brow lifted in bewilderment. When his eyes locked on mine, I knew that I had permission to stay. I didn't know I'd been holding a breath, but the heavy sigh I released was all the proof I needed.
She's safe.”
But sir, she's not marked. She's an outsider.” Gabriel said, astonished, which made me think that me being there as I was, may have been a precedent.
I know.” Connor replied sturdily. “But when I say that she's safe, that's exactly what I mean. Besides, she will be of more help if she knew what was going on around here.”
I didn't know what to say, so I said nothing. But my mind was twirling with questions. Like, what was going on around here? Was this place truly what I was told it was? Would this problem with the Seelie hogs deter my mission here? Would we have enough time to figure out Valiant's plans and get him for his forging a fake Chief's debt on Eric?
While I was preoccupied with my own thoughts, Gabriel stared at me for a long moment, making it clear that he didn't approve of his Sentinel's decision. Apparently though, he wasn't given much choice.
Well?” Connor prompted, growing slightly impatient.
The Seelie have used those disgusting hogs to find and tear up the veil that separates their world from ours, and now they – ”
Yes, you already said that.” Connor interrupted irritably, waving his hand in a motion implying he wanted more. “I want to know where. Is it the pastures? Is it the wilderness? Or the forest?”
It's near the palace, my Lord.”
Suddenly, Connor's back grew stiff, as if a large boulder had just fallen on his shoulders. Perhaps it had. At least it sounded that way. “What of the Queen?” He snapped, unable to hide neither the worry, nor the rage that had suddenly sprung up inside of him.
She'll be here any moment now.”
Assemble the Hunt.” Connor barked out, the order bouncing off of every surface it reached.
Up until that moment I'd followed the conversation with interest, but at the mention of a Hunt, my heart leapt for joy in my chest. Would I really have the luck – after months of idleness – to be a part of an actual fairy Hunt? I sure hoped so, even though a little part of my mind wanted to remind me that I was expected home with answers and a solution to a very tricky – perhaps even fatalistic situation.
They're all ready, my Lord. Waiting for your orders.” Said Gabriel, and I saw a smile of satisfaction play on his lips. He knew he had thought ahead and the Sentinel would be pleased with him.
Apparently though, he hadn't anticipated what was to come next, because his eyes grew wide when he heard Connor's words, and his mouth dropped open like a medieval fortress's drawbridge. “You are to lead the Hunt in the pursuit. I need to speak with Her Majesty first. Then I'll join you.” The Sentinel instructed in a somewhat calmer tone, and I couldn't not be proud of him. He was Chief material alright. “Make sure two hounds are saddled for me and Challenge, and that they know where they'll be going. This time we're getting to the bottom of it.”
Gabriel didn't object, nor did he hesitate in his movements. He promptly closed his mouth and bowed before Connor. He didn't even look at me as he passed by.
Two seconds later, Connor and I exited the live building through a different door-opening than the one Reuben and I had used earlier.
And we found ourselves face to face with a tall, lean woman with crazy hair the color of the greenest grass, and sharp, large blue eyes that sparkled like diamonds in the sun. Her nose was slightly longer and thinner than normal, and her skin was a bit pale. She wore a purple gown that covered her from chest to toe in an elegant manner, and her straight, slightly arrogant posture screamed only one word: regal.
I found myself staring at the woman, just as Connor was pulling me down in a weird, unbalanced curtsy. His head was bowed low, but the serious expression had been almost wiped off his face, replaced by a brilliant smile. It felt as if this woman here had brought a new spark of life to him.
Then Connor straightened, and turning to me, said: “Dawnielle Challenge, I want you to meet Justice – Queen of the Unseelie Fey, and my Mother.”

Chapter 2                                                                           To be continued next month :)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Monthly Story Treat #3

e-novella written by Vanya D.

~ Chapter 2 ~

I watched Dawn swagger toward the moonlit marble structure, as if she was about to conquer a whole new world. Perhaps she was. I didn't know what was on the other side, but I hoped that the witch was right and it wouldn't be a danger to Dawn.

She didn't look back – perhaps it was easier this way. Not for her, but for me. I hated to see her go, especially since I couldn't follow. And I wanted to follow her, to the end of the world if must be. The last couple of years, while she'd been Connor's, were a torture to me. I'd barely been able to stand looking at them being happy together. At least I never had to pretend that I liked it. There were times when I hoped that the internal pain tearing at my heart would really make me bleed. That it would put me at peace for good. Because then I wouldn't have to see her in someone else's arms, feeling someone else's kisses.

It was even more wrong, because that someone had been my Chief to whom I'd owed allegiance. He was not only my leader, he was my brother, he was my soul bearer. And now he was gone and I was left to figure out this mess he left behind.

A huge mess that I couldn't see the end of. A huge mess with Valiant at the center. A huge mess that could get me killed.

I shook my head to clear my thoughts, and concentrated on observing Dawn. Every step she took was elegant, measured and quiet. She was a Hunter alright. But she was also much more than that. She was beautiful in body and soul, she was loyal and fierce. She could be the perfect Chief to the Crew should my plan not succeed tonight.

That morbid thought again. It seemed to be all I thought about these days. But it wouldn't lead me anywhere.

I'd rather think of lust. I'd rather feel it scourge my insides and leave me barely breathing. And with that sweet, curvy body swaying before me in the tight Hunter outfit... it wasn't all that difficult.

I'd longed to touch her, to feel her in my arms for so long, and when Connor died and I was pointed out as the leader, I saw my dreams finally come to life. But Dawn was a wreck. She was devastated by his death because she'd given him her heart, her soul, her everything. Yet, when I saw her earlier in the garage, I could tell that there was a difference, her aura had changed. It wasn't as black as it had been, and I had made the move. I had claimed her as mine. I had given her my scent. And she gave me hope.

Now I had to watch the girl I loved walk into a world I could never enter; a world that could be dangerous. A world that could trap or kill her.

I saw her tiny pale hand touch the black stone then make a trail to the wooden door. As soon as her skin connected with the wood her whole body began to shake violently. For a second she remained standing, then her body crumpled in a heap on the ground. But her hand never disconnected from the door.

So it worked. Dawn went through.

I wanted to run to her and cradle her in my arms, but it was out of the question. It was dangerous for both of us. Instead, I took out my cell phone and pressed 2. The ringer sounded two times, then she picked up.

“Am I right to suppose it worked?” Rebecca asked without any sort of a greeting.

I sighed. “Yes. Yes, you are.” I hoped she wouldn't ask for a pay bonus for it, though I wouldn't put it past her.

“Good. Now tell me exactly what happened.” She urged with the curiosity of a first degree witch. I could hear traffic noise in the background, which meant she was already on her way here. Good.

“It was exactly as you predicted, although you didn't mention that she'd be able to sense Valiant's energy on the stone.”

“She did what?” The astonishment in her voice surprised me. Usually she was the one who knew things.

“Yeah. When she first touched the house, not the door, something happened. I guess she read the energy fields or something, then this shadow came out of nowhere and covered her, as if it wanted to suck the life out of her.” I pressed my lips tightly at the memory. The image was clear in my mind – Dawn, being sucked by that hideous black cloud. “Good thing I was fast enough and pulled her out on time. Otherwise, who knows what could've happened.”

A snort reached my ear. “Oh, you know exactly what would've happened. If she really felt Valiant's energy, she would've been sucked into it. He's a fairy prince, his imprint is powerful enough to consume her whole. And she isn't exactly intact to begin with.”

“Yeah, well, it's that flaw that we counted on, isn't it?”

“True.” She said dismissively. “So how did it go?”

“Well, naturally, I had to tell her about the debt, but other than that it went as predicted. She touched the door and her spirit got sucked to the other side of whatever's in that house.”

She chuckled briefly. “You still don't believe me, do you?”

“How can I? You say it's a portal to the spirit world, but how are you so sure when you haven't seen a ghost in your life?”

“In my life, no – but in my dreams I see them every night. There's something great stirring in there Eric, trust my word on it.”

I pinched the bridge of my nose. I wanted to believe her, mostly because that would explain a whole lot of odd occurrences. But ghosts? Really? Then again, perhaps I did believe her. Why else would I have Dawn go in that house when it was clear that no body could ever cross its energy field? Perhaps I just didn't want to believe. I didn't want to have another type of creature to deal with.

“Fine. Whatever you say. I'm waiting for you.” Then I clicked off and began unloading the truck.

Three bags of sea salt, a couple of duffels full of thick light blue candles that smelled like dew and freshness, two fifty-pound clay pillars and a gallon of holy water later, the lights from Rebecca's mini-cooper danced on the surface of the black marble, announcing her timely arrival. I continued unloading the ceremony stuff without paying her any attention, though I did notice that she was already changed in her blue robe. If I remembered correctly, blue was for calmness and security. It also appealed to the feminine side of nature.

“So how are you gonna do this? Any special arrangement?” I asked, wiping the sweat from my forehead on my sleeve.

She didn't respond right away. Instead, she walked over to where Dawn's body lied, then turned her back on the house and started counting her steps.

“Thirteen.” Rebecca announced and reached for a packet of salt. “Thirteen feet all around her should be enough. Sprinkle the salt, but try to maintain an arc. We don't want any angular structures here.”

“Shouldn't we set up the pillars and the rest of the equipment before we do the salt? It's only logical.” I stated, as if I knew what I was talking about.

Rebecca narrowed her eyes on me. “No.” And that was that.

I sighed, took a packet of salt and began to work. When the ground was sparkling with the moonlit salt crystals, I was made to set up the two pillars right in the middle of the salted area. Exactly six feet away from the line of the arc and six feet away from Dawn's body, and about a foot apart. Then I watched as Rebecca positioned the candles. Each one had an exact spot, and not an inch to another direction. I had to give it to her – the girl knew what she was doing.

Watching her work reminded me of that one time we'd tried to have a relationship. It hadn't worked out because Dawn was always on my mind. But I had tried really hard. So hard that it would show on the outside, in my body language. Rebecca would always tell me to 'just relax and take it easy', but I couldn't.

It was the same kind of thing right now – she wanted to work calmly, quietly with the exact amount of concentration that she needed. While I was a ball of tense nerves that threatened to implode on itself, creating a huge hole in the middle of my chest.

“Stop fidgeting, Eric.” I heard Rebecca's calming voice waves reach my skin, making my hairs stand on end. “I can't concentrate with your energy being so intense. It's busting the whole idea of the security ritual.”

“Easy for you to say.” I muttered. “It's not you who's gonna die if this thing doesn't work.”

“This thing will work just fine if you stop working yourself up. Besides, there are still four good hours until dawn, so there's nothing to worry about.” She said, while circling around the pillars, sprinkling everything with holy water.

“If I know Valiant, he wouldn't wait till dawn. He'll be here earlier. What's to stop him from killing you or Dawn when he sees what we're up to?”

When she turned around, there was a grin on her face. “I didn't tell you before, because I know your binding is absolute and you would've stopped me. But now that it's all done, I think it's safe to say that there's no way Valiant could come in a hundred feet radius from this place.” When I looked at her dumbly, she rolled her eyes and went on to explain. “This stuff you were sprinkling around was iron chloride mixed with table salt. But under the moonlight they look the same.”

“Iron?” I asked, a slow smile spreading over my lips. She nodded. “You're pretty smart for a witch.”

Rebecca smirked. “I am, aren't I? He can't come close to us, nor will he hurt you before dawn – the binding works both ways. So just sit down and watch.” She said, placed a large bowl of holy water on the ground and sat next to it.

I shook my head still unable to believe how she'd tricked the prince and me. But on the inside I was happy. We were protected until dawn. Now we only had to hope that Dawn could figure out what was going on in that house.

I sat down next to Rebecca and concentrated on the water until an image of a young woman dressed in tight crimson pants appeared in it.


I felt like I'd been sucked into the tiniest tube of an overly stuffed vacuum cleaner only to be spat out later with every bone of my body crushed to finest powder. I was sure that I should hurt all over, but all I felt was the distant beating of my heart.

I remembered the light that had enveloped me as soon as I'd touched the wooden door – it's warmth had reverberated through my entire body, leaving a sweet feeling of peace. Now that feeling was gone, replaced by a tingling numbness.

“Silly human,” A voice came from somewhere above me. I tilted my head so I could see the stranger's face, but instead I got personal with his boots. Heavy boots caked in dust and dry mud, and they were no more than an inch away from my mouth. “Are you going to get to your feet or are you planning to lie in the dirt? It makes no difference to me whether you walk or I drag you. So what will it be?”

I didn't want to respond, but I knew that I shouldn't be proud and self-important when I wasn't on my turf. “I'll walk.” I said, but even to my ears it sounded distorted, like I was speaking in a different frequency.

Then very slowly, very deliberately, I tried to push myself up, using both my arms as leverage. All I managed to do was fall over myself in a terrible humiliation. And the worst part was that I had no idea where each part of my body was. I did feel my arms, but I could hardly control them. And my legs... did I still have them?

The stranger sighed in a manner that had me believe he wasn't seeing a helpless puppet for the first time. “Let me help you, girlie.” He said then and the next thing I knew, I was heaved up, almost eye level with him, pressed tightly against his chest. He cocked up a one sided grin while studying the surprise on my face.

And how could I not be surprised? I felt like I was paralyzed from the neck down, excluding the feeble life that ran through my arms. The rest of my body was like dead. There was no sensation in it whatsoever.

“What's wrong with me? Why am I like this?” I demanded, wanting more than anything to just stand on my own two feet, away from the stranger with the cocky smile. Still though, I couldn't deny he was gorgeous. He must've been my age, or at least he looked my age. He had sparkling blue eyes, a straight nose and high cheekbones. His mouth was in the shape of Cupid's bow, and that one sided grin only made him more delicious. There was a faint scar running from the bridge of his nose through his left cheek and down his neck, but so far this was the only imperfection I noticed.

“Because you have no body on this side, silly. And by default spirits can't walk on their own. Until they're taught that is.”

I looked at him dumbly, unable to understand a single word he said. “Wait, what?”

A short laugh came out of his throat, tickling the skin on my face, which seemed to be the only sensitive part of my body so far.

“You don't know, do you? Nobody seems to know nowadays.” He said with a smirk.

“Know what?”

“You're dead, girlie. And you've passed through the veil, so now you're in the spirit world. And like I said, spirits aren't meant to walk on their own. That's what the bodies are for. But, walking can be taught and learned, so no worries, you'll be up and about pretty quick.” The stranger explained as if he were talking to a two-year old.

“Do you realize how insane you sound right now? I have a solid body you know. Besides, I'm not dead.” He cocked his brow at that, his smile spreading even wider. “I'm not! I came here with a life-depending mission, and instead I'm a useless paralytic who can't even stand on her own two feet!”

“Now that right there's called wishful thinking. You're dead as a doornail, and the sooner you accept it, the better.”

I knew what was better alright, but accepting a death I knew wasn't real, wasn't on the list. I just needed my legs, so I could walk on my own and figure out what this place was, and why it was so special that Valiant would want access to it. So far the only things I've seen were a dirty floor (or was it ground?) and a weird stranger, and neither of them were a clue to my whereabouts.

“When will I be able to walk?”

“As soon as you realize that you need only will it.” The stranger declared matter-of-factly.

I looked at him in disbelief. Could it really be that easy? Will it and voila? I narrowed my eyes at him, letting him know that I didn't trust him for one second. “Show me.”

He rolled his eyes but complied. “Okay, here. I'll put you on your feet, but you must want to feel them touching the ground if you're to stand on them by yourself. Otherwise you'll end up back on the ground, and this time I'll just drag you to town.”

It infuriated me that he sounded serious. For some reason, I knew that this wasn't just a threat and that he'd do good on his word. I clenched my teeth and nodded.

The stranger put his hands on my waist, and I felt them there, on both sides of my body. Steady, strong and tight. A moment later, I was at least a head shorter than him and had to look up in order to meet his eyes. The cocky grin was back on his lips, mocking me silently.

“Do you feel the ground underneath?”

No, I didn't. I didn't feel anything but his hands on my waist. I wanted those hands gone, but at the same time I knew that if he let go of me, I would be in a heap on the ground, and that was the last place I wanted to be.

“Could you tell me precisely what I need to do? This isn't exactly easy.” I said, looking down at my unresponsive feet.

“Sure it's easy. Just imagine yourself walking. There's nothing more to it than that.” He said and let go of me.

Before I could understand what was happening, I was standing up on my two wobbly legs, hunched grotesquely and grasping for the safety of his hands. But he wasn't there anymore. He'd backed away, so I wouldn't try leaning on him, and watched me with curiosity.

“Bastard.” I muttered under my breath and glared at him with the intensity of a thousand more profanities.

He chuckled. “That sure is a lady's vocabulary.”

“Shut up and help me, you idiot!”

“For a new arrival you're pretty demanding, you know that girlie?” He said, standing right where he was.

“And stop calling me that. I have a name you know.” I spat out, trying to maintain balance on my feet while righting the upper half of my body. I couldn't rise to my full height, but there was an improvement.

“You do? Let's hear it then.” The stranger retorted, the challenge clear on his face. He even crossed his hands on his chest in the same manner Eric did, his bulky build stretching his black t-shirt in all the right places. What was wrong with the guy? How could he be so infuriating?

I shook my head. “You're the gentleman, you should introduce yourself first.” Right back at ya, asshole!

He smirked and gave me a mock bow, to which I rolled my eyes. He couldn't have been more obvious.

“Reuben, Sentry at gate Tuerie at your service, Madamme.”

“A Sentry? At the death gate? Are you serious?” I asked, putting my hands on my hips, completely forgetting about my inability to control my limbs. When I realized what I'd done, I looked down where my hands were resting, the amazement on my face slowly melting into satisfaction. I was getting the hang of it.

“Dead serious. So?” Reuben asked, motioning toward me expectantly.

I looked at him with a confused expression, then I remembered. “Oh, my name. I'm Dawnielle, but I prefer Dawn.”

“Dawnielle.” He said, tasting the sound of my full name in his mouth. “I like it.”

I smirked, and attempted a tentative step in his direction. And fell. Smack on my face. But that wouldn't have been half as bad if Reuben's laughter didn't resound around me like an echo in a dark tunnel.

“You're not a patient one, are you Dawnielle? Tsk-tsk. Let's see how we can mend that.” He said, and before I knew it he'd taken hold of both my arms.

“Oh no, you don't!” I pulled my arms free and scrambled to my feet. They still felt wobbly, and I wasn't completely trusting them, but I wasn't going to be dragged either. “I said I'll walk, and I fully intend to do so.”

“As you wish. But just so you know, I was trying to help you up so we can be on our way to the Sentinel. He'd want to have a look at you and besides, you're gonna have to sign your name in the book of the dead.” Reuben explained, then held out his elbow, and cocked one brow up. Another challenge, which was quite convenient this time. I could lean on him, instead of falling over my face every couple of feet.

“I'm not signing my name anywhere.” I said with determination, hooking my arm through his. His skin felt soft under my light touch, but I knew that underneath it was a spectacular world of muscular highways, strong and solid because of years of extensive training. Could this guy be really dead?

He smirked. “Like you have any choice. You're on this side of the veil now, which makes you a citizen of Spectrum.”

“What the hell is Spectrum?” I asked, my gaze traveling as far as my eyes could see, but if there was anything worth seeing, it must've been well hidden. Besides the unpaved road where we were walking and the bare fields on either side of it, there was nothing that could catch the eye. Not a single tree, nor an animal. Nothing.

“This is Spectrum!” Reuben exclaimed, waving his free arm to one side, as if what he was showing me was something spectacular. Well, it wasn't. It was bare, plain and ugly. It also felt abandoned. He cleared his throat, as if reading my mind. “Well, it used to look much better until those freaking faeries started stealing from our essence. Everything you see now used to be gardens and forests, untouched by any destructive forces. Now it's like this. But it's been getting better ever since the Sentinel took the reigns. We've gained some territories back as he started locking down some entrances. Including the veil you came through. But of course, the securities don't work on the dead.” Then he winked at me, as if we shared a private joke.

“I told you, I'm not dead.” I repeated, rolling my eyes. But how could I be so sure? If no one but a dead person could walk through a locked down gate, how had I come here? Yet, I didn't doubt it for one second. I knew I was alive because deep down inside me I felt a connection to my beating heart.

“If you say so. But you'd better be prepared for it, you know, in case you are.”

“Where are you taking me exactly?” I asked, changing the topic. Pondering upon my dead-or-not case just didn't feel right.

“To the city of course. The Sentinel will be waiting for your arrival.”

A city? In this wilderness?

“What city? And who's this Sentinel you keep on talking about?” I inquired, my gaze roaming the horizon for any trace of life. At first, it all looked the same – a gloomy flat terrain in all directions. Nothing worth my attention at all.

But then, suddenly, as if I'd just walked through an invisible wall, I was in a city. On a busy street. With people running in all directions, shouting things at one another in a gurgle of voices that sounded like a million echoes. To my surprise, none of those people looked like the pearly shapes I'd been seeing in my world. They looked like they had flesh and blood – just like me. Just like Reuben.

This city.” Reuben chuckled beside me, seeing my amazed expression. Then he pulled me in one direction and we left all the cacophony behind.

I looked around, trying to commit to memory everything I saw. Except that there was nothing unusual about this place. It looked just like a normal city from my own decade. And this had to be the downtown, if the tall buildings and overly populated streets were any indicator to go by. Some buildings were made of glass walls, others of concrete. There were schools, hospitals and even a river.

But we weren't headed toward any of them. When we reached a wide square, we came before the most beautiful building I'd seen in my life. It didn't have pillars or flying buttresses. It didn't even have a dome, or a tower. It wasn't built with concrete or bricks. It had no windows or doors. Instead, it was made of live matter – trees, and weaving plants, flowers and ivy. They all connected and intertwined, forming a round structure the size of the White House, but a thousand times more dashing. And it didn't maintain one shape. It moved, breathed, writhed. It twisted and turned and morphed before my own eyes. It was like nature had fallen from the sky – or risen from the ground – only so it could show its splendor to the silly humans.

“C'mon, we're running late.” Reuben said, tugging me along, as my head spun in all directions, trying to take in all that my eyes were seeing. But mostly, I wanted to remember the people, their solid bodies, their expressions, their humanity. Could they be dead in our world, but very much alive in this Spectrum realm?

When we climbed the couple of stairs that lead toward the live building, I noticed that it looked even more magnificent from up close. I could see every leaf, every leaf's veins. I could see the giant roots that held the enormous structure grounded securely to the earth below, and I couldn't help but marvel at this insanely beautiful creation.

“How could this be?” I whispered more to myself, but Reuben must've heard me because he stopped his rushed stride and pulled me to the side, so he could show me the live wall.

“Here, give me your hand.” He said, and once I complied, placed my bare fingers over the closest vine. It moved beneath me for a second, then twisted and tried to writhe over me, to enclose me in the structure.
I pulled away, gaping in astonishment.

“The vines are ever hungry. They consume everything they touch, but if you steer clear of them you'll be fine.” Reuben explained, then guided me toward the opening that seemed to serve as a door. It was rectangular as we passed through it, but mere moments before it had been arched at the top.

Once inside the live building, the noise from the outside seemed to melt away, completely swallowed by the walls. Yet, that didn't make the place any quieter. Even with the street noise gone, there was a constant humming and squeaking that I gathered came from the stretching and twining of branches, leaves and the like.

A woman in her fifties, with salt-and-pepper hair, a thick-framed pair of glasses and an olive business suit, greeted us from behind a desk made of intertwined flat roots, situated in the middle of a grand foyer. “Reuben dear, you've brought her I see. Very good.” Then turning to me she said. “What's your name, sweetheart? Let's sign you in the book of the dead.” She clicked a pen and waited for me to speak.

I turned to look at my companion. “I'm not signing my name anywhere. I'm not dead and I don't want my name featured in that book.” Not if I could help it.

Reuben frowned. “But you're here, aren't you? You're in Spectrum, the realm of the dead. You're a spirit with no body.”

I shook my head. “That doesn't mean I'm dead.” Besides, I could still feel the thread of life that connected me with my body on the other side. If that thread hadn't been there, they would've been able to convince me. But my heart was still beating, strong and independent.

“Dear, you aren't the first one who thought they were alive, but if you're here – you're dead. There's nothing else you could be. Not really.” The woman intervened, and I shut my eyes for a second so I wouldn't glare at her.

“She's right, Dawnielle.” Reuben said, and I saw the woman scribble my name in the awful book before her.

“Hey!” I protested. “You can't write my name in there! I'm. Not. Dead.!” But I sure was getting angry by the second. “Scratch it!”

The woman scowled. “What's been written once, remains in the book.”

An unearthly growl escaped from my mouth. “I don't care!” I pushed Reuben away and rushed toward the desk hoping to snatch the awful book and tear down the page with my name on it.

But she was faster, and Reuben had figured my intentions quickly and held me from behind. I twisted in his arms, but the bastard was strong and wouldn't budge. No amount of struggling seemed to have any impact on him.

“Let go of me, damn you!” I yelled and gutted him with my elbow. He didn't as much as flinch.

“Reuben! Tasha!” A deep, commanding voice suddenly echoed around the foyer, claiming their attention. I used that moment to finally get away from my captor, and kicked him in the shin. Then I watched him hop on one foot.

“You asked for it, asshole!” I said, proceeding to kick him again, but was interrupted by a heavy hand that landed on my shoulder from nowhere.

“What's going on here?” The same commanding voice demanded? But this time it came from right behind me. The echo was gone, replaced by a velveteen sound that always melted my insides. It's by those deep, calming tones that I recognized it. It's how I always recognized him.

“Connor.” I whispered soundlessly.

The hand squeezed my shoulder, and I knew I was right. He was here.

Chapter 1                                                                          Chapter 3