Photographs: Chapter 1

Russell looked down at the photograph in his hand.  The image was old, yellowed, and wrinkled.  He looked up again.  In the photo, the building had been a bar, with sign of active light.  The colors were faded, and it had been uninhabited for probably a decade.  Yet it was the same building.  The angle of the mountain behind it was right, and the trim around the windows was dingy and battered but recognizable.  At some point, over twenty years ago, his father had stood in this very same spot.

Carefully, he tucked the photograph away and took another look around.  The coffee shop on the other corner was clearly of newer construction, but the bookstore across the street looked like it has been there for centuries.  He took a deep breath, and headed over.

He was pulling his phrase book from his pocket when the man behind the counter gave him an annoyed look.  “I speak English.”  His accent was thick, but the words were intelligible.

“Thank you.”  Russell smiled.  He hesitated a moment, then pointed.  “Do you know anything about the bar that used to be just across there?”

The man gave him a considering look.  “It closed five years ago, after the fire.  Why?”

A fire.  Naturally.  The first real lead he had, and it caught fire.  Russell exhaled.  “My father visited this area before I was born.  He liked the bar enough to have some photos of it.”  Russell shrugged.  “Thought I’d stop in for a drink while I was in the area.”

Something briefly flickered across the man’s face, and he gave Russell another look.  “This is a bit off the path for tourists.”

Alright, the guy was willing to chat a bit.  Or maybe he was bored.  The shop was otherwise as empty as the street.  “Yeah.  I had a hard time finding it on the map.  I, uh…”  He swallowed.  “My father, he uh, he died.”  At least that was the assumption.  “When I was ten.  I thought I’d retrace his footsteps, see…”

“Finding a connection.”  The man’s face warmed a little, and he offered his hand.  “Otto.”

“Russell.”  He accepted the handshake.  “Yeah, that’s the intention.  Can you, uh…”  He smiled.  “What made the bar special?”

Otto twitched his shoulder.  “Beer was good.  But uh…”  Otto took a deep breath, then brushed an imaginary speck of dust off his counter.  “Mostly it catered to a particular sort of crowd.”

“What kind of crowd?”  Russell raised an eyebrow.  His mother said his father had been a soldier once.  “Military?”

“Some, but uh…”  Otto shifted his feet a little awkwardly.  “It attracted those of a certain persuasion.”

“Musicians?”

The other man gave him an annoyed look.  “Men with preferences.”

“Prefer…”  The wheels clicked in his mind, and he felt himself start to blush.  “Oh.”  He winced.  “Oh.”

“Mmm.”  Otto nodded.

“I don’t suppose you know anyone that…”  He winced again.

“That sort tended to want to go unnoticed.”  Otto shook his head.  Then he frowned.  “Though the landlord that rented it to the bar is still around.  Not sure what you’re looking for, exactly, but he might be able to let you in to take a look if you ask politely.”  He started looking around the counter, then after a moment produced a business card.

“Thank you.”  Russell accepted it.  “Uh…”  He looked around.  “If you’ve got a book on the history of the area…”

“It’s not in English.”  Otto smiled as he led Russell to a shelf.

“I’ve got google translate.”  Russell accepted the tome and paid.  Then he tucked the book away before heading back to his vehicle.

Continue reading Photographs: Chapter 1

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War: Chapter 2

“So how was the luncheon?”  Michaels smirked at his partner.  Gabriel just narrowed his eyes.  The mayor’s wife patted his ass.  “I told you to spill coffee on the chief’s desk, but you didn’t listen.”

“I do not miss political functions.”  Stephan shook his head and looked up at Gabriel.

“You had to go to a lot of them?”  Michaels glanced at him.

“Only black guy on the force.”  Stephan shrugged.  “I got dragged along to all of them.”  He looked over his shoulder.  “Magda had to go to, until they hired…”  He frowned.  “What was her name?  Pretty blond girl with the…”  He gestured in front of his chest.

“Violet.”  Ash supplied the name.  Stephan smirked at him, and Ash rolled eyes.  “They were very noticeable.”

“Yeah she was…”  Stephan chuckled.  “Almost out of uniform a few times.  Good cop.  She’d bat her eyes, bend a little forward, and next thing anyone knew the suspect had babbled every bit of information they had.”

“I seem to recall a certain someone walking into a pole the time she wore a mini-dress for a sting.”  Magda grinned.  She caught Gabriel’s arm as he tried to go past into the house.  “Where are you going?”

“To change.”  Gabriel glanced down at her.

“Sorry partner.”  Michaels patted his arm.  “They took a vote when they learned you were in dress uniform.  You’re not allowed to do that.”  He looked over at where Matthias and Ted were coming up the stairs.  “Erilon voted on your behalves.”

“So, it was one to…”  Gabriel turned to count heads.

“Nah, it was unanimous.”  Michaels grinned.  “I like picking on you.”  He put his hand on Gabriel’s shoulder.  “Remember, our job is to serve and protect for the forces of justice and democracy.”  He turned back to the grill and started putting burgers onto plates for Matthias and Ted.

Gabriel started toward the door again, and Magda stepped into his path to block him.  Daniel and Laura came up the stairs, and Daniel started snickering.  Gabriel exhaled and looked up at the sky.  “She showed him the photo?”

“She showed him the photo,” Michaels confirmed.

“What photo?”  Matthias raised an eyebrow.

“Oh for…”  Gabriel took a deep breath, then he shrugged.

Michaels nearly dropped the plate he was holding when Gabriel simply started unbuttoning the jacket of the uniform.  “Uh, partner?”  He blinked.  “What are you doing?”

“Stripping.”  Gabriel continued unbuttoning the jacket.

“You’re…”

“Is anyone…”  Gabriel looked around.  “Going to stop me?”

“Hell no.”  Matthias grinned, then put an elbow on Ted’s shoulder.  Ted was running a hand down the front of his face.

Continue reading War: Chapter 2

War: Chapter 1

He shuffled a few papers together in a pile on his desk and then set them aside before grabbing a different stack.  Rather than invest Mr. Ishi’s money directly into the center, he’d set up an investment fund.  From that, he funded several types of scholarships and grants.  Security deposits for kids getting their first apartments, emergency car repairs, clothes for seeking employment, and other needs.  It was rapidly becoming one of his favorite parts of the job.

Actually deciphering the applications, however…  Ted rubbed his eyes and winced.  Maybe he should have listened to Monica about having them be only online, but not all the kids had access to computers.  He’d set up a small computer lab there at the center, but perhaps he should consider expanding it.  Ted exhaled, then set the applications in a folder.  Magda and her crew would be arriving sometime today.  Perhaps he could convince Daniel and Ash to help.

There was a light rapping at the door.  “Come in.”  Ted looked up, expecting to see Margaret.  Then his face broke into a wide smile.  “Rebecca.  I wasn’t expecting you until next week.”  He stood up.

His ex-wife returned the smile.  “Plans changed at the last minute.  I hope you don’t mind me just dropping in.”  She shrugged, then looked around.  “Last time I saw this building it looked like setting it on fire would be doing it a favor.”

“We’ve put a lot of work in over the past couple years.”  He walked around the desk.  “Let me show you around.”

“Just show me to whatever room is emitting that heavenly smell.”  She nodded as they stepped into the hallway.

Ted laughed.  “Sister Margaret teaches a cooking class.  I believe this week is brownies.”  He gestured for her to follow him.  “And since she is a nun I suppose heavenly is accurate enough.”

Rebecca smiled warmly as he introduced her to the class.  He referred to her as an old friend rather than explaining to everyone that she was his ex-wife.  And it was true enough.  They’d been friends once, and after putting their disaster of a marriage behind them they’d managed to become friends again.  The kids let her taste the brownies, and she praised them all.

After the kids filed out, he turned toward her.  “So what does bring you to town?”

“I realized I’m still paying rent on that storage unit on Fifteenth.  Since I don’t recall what is in it, I thought I should check with you before heading over.”  Rebecca shrugged.

“I remember it being a lot of boxes that we never unpacked after we moved from Oregon, but beyond…”  He frowned, then waved a hand.  “That might be where all those linens are.”

“Oh, the ones we collected in Europe?”  She started nodding.  “I think you’re right.”  She gave him a hesitant look.  “Dibs?”

“All but the French ones?”  He raised an eyebrow.  Magda was going to be staying with them, after all.

“Deal.”

Continue reading War: Chapter 1

Archeology: Chapter 11

He stared at the man wearing the ring, then turned toward Bridget.  “Are you hurt?”

“I’m fine.”  Her eyes were tight enough that he knew she wasn’t completely honest, and when his eyes went toward her hand he noticed bruises and cuts.  Bridget shook her head.  “I’m sorry, Khait.  I tried to —”

Lothar started laughing.  “Wow.”  He smirked at Khait.  “She actually thinks you care.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Guess burying you in the desert didn’t rob you of your charm.”

“I told you, Lothar…”  Khait smiled.  “It’s just not going to work out.”  He narrowed his eyes.  “You’re not my type.”  He glanced at Abigail and gave her what he hoped was a comforting smile.  “This is why you shouldn’t date werewolves.”  She returned the smile, but it didn’t reach her eyes.  “They get clingy, start humping your leg, and —”

“You weren’t kidding.”  The man wearing the ring rubbed his face.  “He really doesn’t know how to shut up.”  He shook his head.  “You’ll not speak again without permission.”

Khait glared at him, but the ring’s power forced him to silence.  “Leave him alone.”  Abigail turned to glare at the man.  Dammit.  He needed some way to get her and Bridget out of here.

Continue reading Archeology: Chapter 11

Archeology 101: Chapter 10

He lay on the sand, watching the sun set over the ocean.  Abigail’s head rested on his chest.  Khait curled an arm around her shoulder.  She snuggled into him, the stuffed cat in her arms.  It was the only one of the prizes she’d kept.  The rest she’d given away to children as they explored the pier.  “Did they have anything like that in ancient Egypt?”

“Surprisingly yes.”  When she gave him a disbelieving look, he shrugged.  “Games and the like, on market days.  A few small rides.  Like the spinning swings.”

“Okay.  Tell me the truth.”  She raised her head to rest on her hand as she stared at him.  “Did aliens build the pyramids?”

“No.”  He shook his head.

“Dragons did it.”

“Actually, no.”  He shrugged.  “They were simply tombs for particularly arrogant Pharaohs.”

“That is…”  She sighed.  “So boring.”

“They made excellent decoys though.  People focused on the big things, and never went looking for the little ones.”

“Clever.”  Abigail put her head back on his shoulder.  “I’m still not putting out on the first date.”  Khait went still.  She raised her head again.  “Khait?”

“I…”  He gave an embarrassed laugh.  Then, in the second most out of character thing he’d done tonight, he decided to simply be honest.  “I’ve been having such a good time I completely forgot to seduce you.”

“That is simultaneously the sweetest…”  She leaned over to plant a light kiss on his lips.  She tasted of cotton candy and beer.  “And most disappointing thing a man has ever said to me.”

“So…”  He raised an eyebrow.  “Does that mean you’ll —”  A shadow fell over them.  “You are blocking our light.”

“Move.”  One of the four men waved at him.  “This is our spot.”

“Didn’t see your name on it.”  Abigail lay her head back on Khait’s shoulder.

“We said, move.”  One of the other men drew himself to his full and not inconsiderable height.

“Remember that cop at the airport?”  Abigail put her hand on Khait’s stomach.

“That one…”  Khait waved a hand, and a wet spot appeared on the front of the first man’s pants.  The man went wide-eyed.  “Or that one?”  The second man suddenly leaped into the air as smoke began pouring out of his pants.  He made a frantic screaming sound as he ran toward the water.

“The first one.”  Abigail snuggled into him.

“Right.”  Khait looked up at the now staring men and let his eyes go red and glowing.  “Bugger off.”

His arms went around Abigail to pull her in closer as the men fled.

Continue reading Archeology 101: Chapter 10

Archaeology 101: Chapter 2

This was…  Where in the…  Khait started looking around.  Aside from the two women staring at him, he saw no one else around.  He also saw a hole in the ceiling, a lot of sand, and best of all, no angry dragon-goddesses.  Things were looking up, mostly.  “Didst thou sayeth…?”  He glanced down at himself, then shrugged.  Naturally.  Stark naked.  Well, that should make things easy, though neither of the women before him had averted their eyes.  The dark-skinned one was staring with a clearly appreciative expression, and the brown haired one looked at him as though he had tracked dog feces through her parlor.  And they were both dressed… in trousers that cut off at the knees.  Well, if you could call it dressed.

“Who the hell are you, and where did you come from?”  The brunette’s words were strange.  It took him a few moments to puzzle out what she had said.

“Khait, my lady.”  He bowed.  “I cometh…”  He paused, and looked around.  “Whither art we?”  He took a step toward them, then caught a glimpse of himself in a metallic decoration set into the wall.  Sure enough, he was indeed nude, but that wasn’t the part that concerned him.  He glanced at himself, then looked back at the women.  One of them had to have summoned him, but why…  “Wherefore hath mine appearance not changeth?”  If she was one of Isis’s adherents, he might be in a little trouble.

“Why the hell are you talking like that?”

Twice now she’d invoked hell.  He couldn’t decide if that were good or bad.  “Thy tongue is an oddity.”

“Doth mother know you weareth her drapes?”  The dark-skinned woman started snickering.  “Or weareth nothing at all?”  Her accent was different than the other one’s.  Slightly more familiar, though there was a mocking tone to her words.  “Seriously, how drunk are you?”

“Methinks I be sober…”  He shrugged.  “Could beest mine mistake.”  He had been drunk, before Isis had…  No, she’d drugged him.  Somehow.  Hadn’t she?

“Yeah, I’ll bet your mistaken.  Right…”  The dark-skinned woman whistled.  “Not that I don’t appreciate the show, but we might want to get you some clothes.”

“Doth thee plan to acquire proper attire?”  He raised an eyebrow.

“I’m getting the professor.”  The brunette ran a hand down her face.

Continue reading Archaeology 101: Chapter 2

Archaeology 101 – Chapter 1

Khait yanked at the ropes binding him to the stone table.  To his surprise, they failed to give even the slightest amount.  He frowned, then began struggling in earnest.  The last thing he remembered was a woman pouring him wine.  There were a half-dozen black-robed figures moving around the room.  One of them came toward him with a knife.  Khait blinked as the figure began cutting off his clothing.  Then he smirked.  “Ah, it’s going to be like that, is it?”  He licked his lips.  “You know, if you wanted to pl…”  He cut off as a woman came through the door.  “Oh.”

“Tighten the restraints.  He needs to be still.”  She waved a hand at one of the robed figures.

He grunted as the figure obeyed.  “Isis, look, I’m certain this is…”  His eyes widened as she drew a knife of her own, and cut open his arm.  “Isis, you and I go back a long way, and…”  She touched her finger to the blood, then began using it to draw a glyph on his chest.  “Isis.  Isis.”  He started shaking his head.  “This isn’t…”

“You…”  Her eyes gleamed with an unnatural light.  “Were warned.”

What he hoped was a charming smile came to his face.  “Look, I get that you are angry, but why don’t we just —”

“Your antics have jeopardized us all.”  She shook her head.

“I…”  He winced as she worked the blade again to draw more blood.  Though he knew it would do him little good, he tried to summon up his magic anyway.  He felt as though he were trying to get purchase on ice.  “Isis, you don’t want to do this.  You want to just eat me and go one with —”

“Eating you…”  Isis rolled her eyes.  “Would do me little good.”

“Little good?  You’d get a good meal, I’d be out of your hair, you win.”  He tried struggling again, but the restraints prevented him from moving.  They pulled at his joints, straining them until just breathing was painful.  “Isis —”

“I’m well aware killing you is not an option.”  She leaned down until her lips were near his ear.  “Usariel.”

Not good.  Painful or not, he started thrashing.  He even managed to nearly pull his arm free before it was yanked down and secured again.  He opened his mouth.  “Isi—”  Metal was forced between his teeth, both gagging him and holding his head in place.

Isis stood.  Her eyes had left the masquerade of humanity behind, and glowed with green fire.  She set a gemstone on his forehead.  Power seemed to wrap around him, and then it started to tear.

Behind the gag, he screamed.

Continue reading Archaeology 101 – Chapter 1

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 13

“I would feel much, much better if we had more guns.”  Adele looked down at the meager offerings.

“Or even just more bullets.”  Natalya sighed.  “Alright, we’ve got the 45 Greg took from the bad guys, and we’ve got Phil’s puny little backup ankle gun and…”  She looked up at Yala and Greg.  “You guys couldn’t have retrieved his sidearm while you were kidnapping him?”

“Bullets are the things that the gun spits out?”  Yala glanced at Greg.

“Yep.”  Greg nodded.

“Also known as ammunition.”  Phil shrugged.  Then he tilted his head at Natalya.  “Puny?”

She held the gun up with the tip of two fingers.  “Puny.”

“You ever tried strapping a bigger gun to your ankle and walked all day?”  He raised an eyebrow at her.

“Honey, I wear high heels.  Don’t even go there.”  She folded her arms.

Phil started to open his mouth, and Greg reached over to put a hand over it.  “Don’t.”  Greg shook his head.  “Just smile and nod.”

“Better if we had more strong outer layers.”  Yala picked up Phil’s bulletproof vest.

“Armor.”  Greg provided the word quietly.

“Armor.  They will not shoot at me, but the rest of you are in harm’s way.”  Yala exhaled.

“Yeah, killing you is pretty much the exact opposite of what they want to do.”  Phil looked down at the crude sketch he’d made of the area.  “We have the element of surprise at least.”

“How do you figure that?”  Natalya stared at him.

“He threw a bed at me.”  Phil gestured at Yala.  “That was definitely a…”  He blinked when the light came on in the small garage they were using for cover.  “Surprise.”

Natalya turned to see a startled looking young man staring at them.  “Uh, hi.”

“Hi…”  He looked at the others, then back at her.  “What are you doing in my shop?”

“Natalya Petrov.”  She held out her hand as she took a step forward, smiling at him.  “Nice to meet you.”

“Uh…”  He accepted her handshake.  “Jim.  That, uh…”  He gave a small head shake.  “Doesn’t answer my question.”  He glanced at them again.  “I’m calling the police.”

“I am the police.”  Phil shrugged.  When Jim looked over at him, Phil held up his badge.  “See?  Come in here.”

“Uh…”  The ginger-haired, freckled young man stepped all the way in.  “Okay.  Officer.  Uh…”  He glanced at the table, then his eyes widened at the sight of the rough map.  “Oh, is this a sting?”

She glanced over her shoulder to see both Greg and Phil nod, Adel shrug, and Yala give her a confused look.  “Yes, it’s a sting.  We need you to be quiet, okay?”

“It’s the Penskies, isn’t it?”  Jim started grinning.  “I knew they were up to —”

“Jim, do you have a vehicle?”  Greg’s head came up.

“Yeah, I got uh…”  He gestured.  “My bikes.”  He brightened a little before pointing to the door into the work area proper.  “Oh, and the jeep, but it’s hitched up to my boat.”

“You have a boat?”  Yala straightened.

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 13

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 12

“What is that smell?”  Yala sniffed the air, tilting his head from side to side.  “It smells like that twix creature.”

“Twix creature?”  Phil glanced at Natalya.

“Long story…”  She glanced at Phil before turning toward Yalathanil.  “That’s called fudge.”

“Two at eight o-clock.”  Greg shielded his eyes before indicating a store front.  “They are offering samples.”

“Don’t look.”  Phil caught her hand as she started to turn.  “If you look they’ll know we’ve made them.”  He smiled at her, his face calm despite the concern in his eyes.  He grinned at her as though they were on holiday.  “I’ve got another at five.  You were military?”

“Navy.”  Greg nodded.  “You?”

“Air force.”  Phil exhaled.  “Navy probably prepared you a little better for this.”

“No.”  Greg shook his head.  “No, it did not.”

When Phil tried to release her hand, she tightened her grip.  One of the men whose reflection she caught in the glass was the man who’d constantly stared at her ass.  “They are Xue’s people.  At least one of them.”  She swallowed.

“And they are trying to get between us and the water.”  Adele was paler than usual, though she tried to keep a friendly smile on her face as she and Yala helped themselves to fudge samples.  She also accepted a bit of fish for the kitten, who nibbled at it eagerly.

“I’ve got my badge.”  Phil exhaled.  “If they cause a problem, that should be enough to handle things.”  He shrugged.  “Unless, you know, anybody runs the badge and learns I’m a hostage.”

“I do not think I like mint.”  Yala frowned at the fudge in his hand.

“Oh, I’ll take it.”  Greg immediately held out his own hand, and Yala handed him the slice of fudge.  “Phil, they are cutting off the road but we could go through the alley, circle around.”

“If I were them, that’s what I’d want you to do.  We’d be isolated, outside of public view.”  Phil kept moving forward.

“Not sure I trust the short-fringe…”  Yala nodded.  “But he is right.  Stay in the group, the predators go after loners.”

“Swim in a school.”  Greg sighed.  “And now I feel like a bait-fish.”

“Am I the short-fringe?”  Phil glanced at her.

“You’re the first friendly person with short hair he’s encountered.”  Natalya nodded.  “Don’t take it personally.”

“We’ve just been telling everyone he’s Dutch.  From Amsterdam.”  Adele patted Yala’s arm, then shifted her grip on the kitten.

“Might not work here.  Holland settled quite a few places in this area.”  Phil waved a hand.  “See how many places have windmill decorations?”

“What is Holland?”  Yala raised an eyebrow at Phil.

“The country the Dutch are from.”  Phil blinked.

“Dutch are from Amsterdam.”  Yala glared at him.

“Amsterdam is a city.”  Phil shook his head.  “Holland is the country.”

“What is the country?”  Yala glanced at Greg.

“Wait…”  Greg tilted his head.  “I thought the Dutch were from Deutschland.”

“From…”  Phil stopped walking forward.  “Germans are from Deutschland.”

“That does not make any sense at all.”  Yala kept moving.

“You know…”  Adele followed, Greg a pace behind her.  “He does kind of have a point there.”

“Somewhere a geography teacher is crying herself to sleep and has no idea why.”  Natalya squeezed Phil’s hand as they started walking again.

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 12

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 11

“We are really sorry about this.”  Adele glanced over at Phil.

“You’ve mentioned that.”  He glanced down at where his wrists were still cuffed together, though they’d put a little wrapping to make sure the cuffs didn’t hurt him.  It hadn’t taken him long to figure out they weren’t actually going to threaten him or harm him, but he was still being fairly cooperative.  “If you are telling the truth about being held in this lab, then you need —”

“Phil, I appreciate that you are trying to help and after we’ve all escaped we will happily cooperate.”  Adele patted his shoulder.

“You do understand it doesn’t work that way, right?”  He raised an eyebrow.  “You are guilty of kidnapping, and the longer you keep me prisoner the less chance you have of not going to prison over it?”

“Phil, if we let you go, Xue’s folks are going to try to kill you to shut you up because they don’t know what you saw or what we told you.”  Greg shook his head.  He was driving, and Yala had claimed the passenger seat.  He hadn’t wanted to sit next to Phil, as Phil had short hair.

“I’m a cop, and I’ll be surrounded by other cops.”  Phil sighed.  “Look I appreciate the concern and it is legitimate, which will go in your favor, but like I said, the longer you keep me prisoner —”

“You’ve got a really nice car.”  Natalya patted the windowsill.  “Did you rebuild this yourself?”

“Changing the subject won’t help either.”  Phil leaned his head back on the neck rest.

“Phil…”  Greg put the blinker on before changing lanes.  “You are handcuffed between two beautiful women, and you’re going to stay that way probably for another day or two, so uh…”  He shrugged.  “Just relax and enjoy it.”

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 11

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 10

Adele stood under the shower.  Stood.  No shower chair.  She could hear the kitten batting around the wrapper from the soap.  They did need to get an early start, or she’d have suggested they all spend some time at the hotel’s pool.  Then again, Yala and a pool might not be a good idea.  He could inadvertently switch forms, and they had no idea how he’d react to various pool chemicals.  Did he switch when he got wet?  Assuming Greg reminded him to shower, they’d know soon enough.

Reluctantly, she got out of the shower and pulled her clothes on.  Natalya was still sprawled on the bed, and Octopus climbed up and made herself comfortable on Natalya’s back.  Adele shook her head and headed out to grab them all some breakfast.

Halfway down the corridor she noted a familiar face.  One of the handlers was talking to the desk clerk.  Immediately she turned around and headed back.  “Nat?”  She rushed over and shook her friend awake.  “Nat, they are here.”

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 10

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 9

“Try this one.”  Natalya pushed another of the foods toward him.

He picked it up.  The scent was sweet, and a little warm and rich.  Tentatively, he took a small taste.  Then his eyes went wide, and he took another.  It had just a bit of crunch in the center, like small bones, and there was some gooey brown stuff as well.  The thing’s blood?  “I like this.”

“That…”  Natalya grinned.  “Is called a Twix.  My favorite candy bar.”  She leaned in.  “Okay, the crunchy bit is cookie, the light brown is caramel, and the coating is chocolate.”

Yalathanil took another bite, savoring the flavor.  “Are these creatures hard to hunt?  Is that why you don’t eat them all the time?”

“It’s uh…”  She blinked.

After a closer look at the inner parts, he raised an eyebrow at her.  “What manner of creature is it?  I see no organs.”

“It’s not…”  She shook her head.  “It’s not a creature or a plant.  It’s a concoction.  Like…”  She lowered her hands.  “I have absolutely no idea how to explain it.  It’s a mix of other things made into this thing and…”  She straightened up.  “And wow your biology is utterly fascinating.  Based on your teeth in your natural form you are clearly a carnivore, yet your body isn’t rejecting anything else you’ve tried so you must be omnivorous on some level.  Or are you mimicking humans on the inside as well as the outside?”

“I…”  He blinked.  “I do not know.  I never took this form before.  I knew I could, but there was never before a reason.”

“But there are different of your kind.  I mean, there must be.”  She sat back, looking over at him curiously.  “How do your lungs even work?  I mean, most can’t go from air to fresh water to salt…”  She exhaled.  “I’m sorry.  I just find you fascinating and want to know how you work, and I know, it’s rude.  I shouldn’t think of you like a specimen.”

“You are helping me learn of you, Natalya.”  He inclined his head.  “I am happy to help you learn of me.”  He shrugged, then blinked as the kitten came over to him, climbed into his lap, and lay down before moving her paws on his leg in a kneading motion.  He stared at it.  “What is she doing?”

“She likes you.”

“I…”  He stared at the creature, then gently stroked it with a finger like Adele had done.  The kitten immediately started vibrating.  “Did I break it?”

“No, they make that noise when they are happy.”  She went quiet.

For a few minutes, he just stared at the tiny being, occasionally stroking it with a finger again.  The kitten responded to the gesture by grabbing his finger in its paws and happily starting to chew on it.  “Natalya…”  He hesitated.  “You said one of my kind took your brother.”

“It wasn’t exactly like you.  I mean…”  She folded her arms.  “You look kind of like a lionfish.  It looked like a squid or an octopus.  It had all these tentacles and moved fast, making this horrific screaming noise.”  She shuddered a little.  “It was on an island.  There was this door with marks on it.  I should have left it alone.”  Tears started falling from her eyes, and she started weeping silently.

Awkwardly, he put his arm around her, as he’d seen Greg do to both girls when they needed comfort.  “Rusalkas.”  When she blinked at him.  “They are rare.  They tend toward…”  He shrugged.  “They are like Xue.”

“Bad guys.”  She leaned into him a little.

“Yes.  Bad.  But not guys.  All Rusalkas are females.  They liked to steal others, and made others mad.  Made war between us and the other…”  He searched for the word.  “Protectors.  Some were sealed away, but too much hurting was done.  When the severing was done, we went deep.”

“Yala…?”

“Yes, Natalya?”

“After we get you to the ocean, you’ll come visit us, right?”  She straightened, and smiled at him.  “I need to either learn your language or better teach you mine because now I have so many more questions and…”  She took a deep breath.  “I think they will drive me insane.”

“Yes, Natalya.”  He nodded, then touched a finger to her forehead, then smiled.  “I will visit.”

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 9

Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

“It’s dangerous.”  Liam shook his head.

“You said I would serve you, Aihuroa.”  Mikaere looked up at him.  “I cannot serve you if you leave me here.”

“You are serving me.  You are watching out for my family.”  Liam folded his arms.

“I can understand the trade language now, and I’ve beaten Chidike three times now in duels.”  Mikaere lifted his chin stubbornly.  “I can help.”

“Mikaere, if you…”  Liam leaned on the ship’s railing.  “If you come with me to the Wildlands, you’d have to pretend to be my slave.”

“I am your —”

“No.”  He raised his voice, then almost regretted it as he saw the wounded look in Mikaere’s eyes.  Liam exhaled.  “Mikaere, you are not my slave.”

“Aihuroa, my life is —”

“Mikaere, I…”  He looked up, and saw Uduak giving him a sympathetic smile.  He’d once been convinced he was her slave.  Except Uduak had…  “You’re not my slave, Mikaere.  You are part of my family.”  The younger man’s eyes went wide, then started to shine with unshed tears.  “And you’re right.  You came to the Ilael because of me.”  He squared his shoulders.  “Next time I go ashore…”  He smiled.  “You may come with me.”

Mikaere’s face broke into a wide smile.  “Don’t worry, Aihuroa.  I’m sure Captain Adaeze will let you go ashore again.”  He scampered off, pausing to help one of the crew tie down a line.

Liam looked up as Uduak approached. “I have a feeling I just became a grandmother again.”

“He’s too old to be my son.”  Liam laughed, then let it die away.  “I admit, when I go to the Wildlands and see Jurgen with Rutger and Rien, I…”  He shook his head.  “Have absolutely no idea how Jurgen manages to put up with little brothers.”

“Little sisters are better.”  Ama’s voice came from behind him, and a moment later she was climbing onto his back.  He shifted so she could settle herself more comfortably.  He felt the slight spark of her power as it brushed up against his, and saw the hint of a smile that revealed she felt it too.  “The storm is going to be big.”

“If we alter our heading a few degrees we can ride it out along the edge.”  Liam nodded.

“Be more fun to go through.”  She smiled at the clouds.  “They are singing.”  She snuggled into him as he shifted so she was sitting on his hip.  “Listen.”

He closed his eyes, tracing his mind along the edge of her fledgling gift.  Her head rested on his shoulder, and he knew her eyes were closed as well as she leaned into his focus.  “They are.”  He nodded.  He started to open his mouth, then closed it before tracing the edge again.

In his arms, Ama tensed slightly.  With their powers linked, he knew she’d seen the same thing he had.  “I could try.”  She lifted her head.  “I could try.”

“I know.”  He drew her further down the line, and heard her let out a small whimper.  Then he let the vision fall away.  “We can come around the other side.  It won’t save the ship, but it will save the crew.”

“I’ll get stronger.”  He opened his eyes to meet her darker ones, and saw the determination inside.  “I will.”

“I know.”  He touched his forehead to hers.  “And I will help you.”

Continue reading Stone and Fire: Chapter 32

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 9

“Try this one.”  Natalya pushed another of the foods toward him.

He picked it up.  The scent was sweet, and a little warm and rich.  Tentatively, he took a small taste.  Then his eyes went wide, and he took another.  It had just a bit of crunch in the center, like small bones, and there was some gooey brown stuff as well.  The thing’s blood?  “I like this.”

“That…”  Natalya grinned.  “Is called a Twix.  My favorite candy bar.”  She leaned in.  “Okay, the crunchy bit is cookie, the light brown is caramel, and the coating is chocolate.”

Yalathanil took another bite, savoring the flavor.  “Are these creatures hard to hunt?  Is that why you don’t eat them all the time?”

“It’s uh…”  She blinked.

After a closer look at the inner parts, he raised an eyebrow at her.  “What manner of creature is it?  I see no organs.”

“It’s not…”  She shook her head.  “It’s not a creature or a plant.  It’s a concoction.  Like…”  She lowered her hands.  “I have absolutely no idea how to explain it.  It’s a mix of other things made into this thing and…”  She straightened up.  “And wow your biology is utterly fascinating.  Based on your teeth in your natural form you are clearly a carnivore, yet your body isn’t rejecting anything else you’ve tried so you must be omnivorous on some level.  Or are you mimicking humans on the inside as well as the outside?”

“I…”  He blinked.  “I do not know.  I never took this form before.  I knew I could, but there was never before a reason.”

“But there are different of your kind.  I mean, there must be.”  She sat back, looking over at him curiously.  “How do your lungs even work?  I mean, most can’t go from air to fresh water to salt…”  She exhaled.  “I’m sorry.  I just find you fascinating and want to know how you work, and I know, it’s rude.  I shouldn’t think of you like a specimen.”

“You are helping me learn of you, Natalya.”  He inclined his head.  “I am happy to help you learn of me.”  He shrugged, then blinked as the kitten came over to him, climbed into his lap, and lay down before moving her paws on his leg in a kneading motion.  He stared at it.  “What is she doing?”

“She likes you.”

“I…”  He stared at the creature, then gently stroked it with a finger like Adele had done.  The kitten immediately started vibrating.  “Did I break it?”

“No, they make that noise when they are happy.”  She went quiet.

For a few minutes, he just stared at the tiny being, occasionally stroking it with a finger again.  The kitten responded to the gesture by grabbing his finger in its paws and happily starting to chew on it.  “Natalya…”  He hesitated.  “You said one of my kind took your brother.”

“It wasn’t exactly like you.  I mean…”  She folded her arms.  “You look kind of like a lionfish.  It looked like a squid or an octopus.  It had all these tentacles and moved fast, making this horrific screaming noise.”  She shuddered a little.  “It was on an island.  There was this door with marks on it.  I should have left it alone.”  Tears started falling from her eyes, and she started weeping silently.

Awkwardly, he put his arm around her, as he’d seen Greg do to both girls when they needed comfort.  “Rusalkas.”  When she blinked at him.  “They are rare.  They tend toward…”  He shrugged.  “They are like Xue.”

“Bad guys.”  She leaned into him a little.

“Yes.  Bad.  But not guys.  All Rusalkas are females.  They liked to steal others, and made others mad.  Made war between us and the other…”  He searched for the word.  “Protectors.  Some were sealed away, but too much hurting was done.  When the severing was done, we went deep.”

“Yala…?”

“Yes, Natalya?”

“After we get you to the ocean, you’ll come visit us, right?”  She straightened, and smiled at him.  “I need to either learn your language or better teach you mine because now I have so many more questions and…”  She took a deep breath.  “I think they will drive me insane.”

“Yes, Natalya.”  He nodded, then touched a finger to her forehead, then smiled.  “I will visit.”

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 9

Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 8

Greg couldn’t stop himself from tearing up a little as he watched Adele and Natalya do cartwheels across the park.  Yalathanil was watching the girls with a confused expression on his face. “What is meaning, this?”

“Adele…”  Greg swallowed.  “She hasn’t been able to…”  He exhaled.  “She was in that chair for six years.”  He wiped at his eyes.  “She used to dance, before the chair.  Now she is free to dance again.”

“To feel her fins…”  Yalathanil slowly nodded.  “The chair is like a tank, when before she had the sea.”

“Yeah.”  Greg gave him a small smile.  “I guess you would understand.”  He watched Yalathanil step forward, then turn to the side and move a half step.  “What are you —”  He cut off as Yalathanil attempted a cartwheel, stumbling a little.

“Difficult.”  Yalathanil stood, then turned again, lifting his arms above his head before leaning to the side again.

“Okay, um…”  Greg exhaled.  “It’s been a couple years, but watch.  Like this.”  He turned sideways into a lunge, then slowly put his hands on the ground.  Then he kicked his feet up and over his head one at a time before landing in a lunge again.  “See?”

“Yes.  I think.”  Yalathanil tried to imitate the slow-motion movements, but didn’t get his feet all the way over and instead just sort of half jumped his legs.  “They do faster.”

“Yeah, it’s actually a little easier if you have momentum.”  He demonstrated again at normal speed.

Yalathanil tried again, this time managing a reasonable cartwheel.  Both of them turned at the sound of applause, and saw the girls cheering for them.  Greg started laughing, and after a moment Yalathanil did the same.  “Come on!”  Natalya gestured to them.  “Last one to the swings is a rotten egg.”  She and Adele started running.

They exchanged a look before taking off after the girls.

Continue reading Storm’s Mercy: Chapter 8