Dipak brought her stained fingers to her lips.
“This is my fault,” she whispered.
Jacob reached one hand out to her and started to protest. She whirled around on him, her eyes steaming and sucking in all the light around them.
“She fought for me,” Dipak hissed.
Jacob could not deny that. If Dipak had been else where, Gytha would have been as well. When Gytha went into battle it was only for the purpose of protecting the Life Spark. He wondered why she had always been so loyal, in every life. It didn’t matter to Gytha what Dipak looked like or what she became. Was it only because she was the Life Spark?
Dipak turned back to Gytha and uttered a series of clicks. Angerona scuttled out from the trees and crawled up into Dipak’s lap. They clicked back and forth to each other for some time before Angerona moved so that she was settled upon Gytha’s stomach. Dipak dug her fingers into the shoulder wound and pulled out the bullet. She did the same for the wound in Gytha’s arm. She stared down at the bullets with the small bit of iron at their base. This was the reason the wounds had not yet healed. Dipak stuffed the bullets in her mouth and swallowed them, taking the posion into herself.
Struggling to her feet, she clung to the tree. There was no calling for Enaid now and there was no need. She stumbled through the split trunk and staggered to Enaid’s side where she fell to her knees.
“What do I do?” she asked.
Jacob came up behind her. There was nothing he could offer for comfort. What could they do now but wait? They needed the next seed and they needed the cure for what ever illness was raging through Dipak.
“Jacob, this isn’t sickness,” she said, looking up at him.
He said nothing. He knew sick when he saw it.
“I am the Aspect of Wrath. I will continue to change. Each act of violence around me will force further change until I become nothing but rage and destruction. When I reach that point, I won’t be able to bind the tree. This Aspect of the Life Spark isn’t suppose to be here for binding. It’s suppose to come to protect the tree.”
Digging her fingers into her hair and pulling hard, she wailed “The timing is all wrong!”
Falling to his knees next to her, he tried to pull her into his arms, but she shoved him away.
Throwing his thoughts out again, he hoped that she would come. They needed her to come.
Autumn was so much like her that she couldn’t help but love and hate it. The bitterness of it was knowing that the coldness and death was to follow. The winds raked at the brightness of the leaves and swirled them across the ground without regard for the dimming of their colors or the nakedness of the trees. She knew the way this season felt. How could she not? It was a time of year held prisoner by the joy of growth that was left behind and the mirth of the winter. She lived in this season. It was who she was.
Chilly winds blew dried leaves against the cold glass. The sun was bright and spilled light in a rectangle across their table, but it wasn’t warm. Xania sipped her coffee. It was bitter and burnt, but it was nicely hot in her mouth. Enero had an empty plate sitting in front of him. He’d had a hearty breakfast; steak and eggs with toast. He’d all but licked the plate clean. Xania had eaten nothing. Breakfast was for morning people, which she wasn’t. Enero chugged down his glass of milk and sighed.
He was happy and satisfied. Xania took another sip of her coffee, trying not to listen to Enero’s prattle while making it look like she gave a damn. She didn’t. Enero hated everyone so much and she couldn’t see what he had to hate for. He was a prince; he had everything he had ever wanted. That was the major reason that she was with him at all. The only reason.
“Xania, are you listening?” Enero brushed his cold finger tips across the back of her hand.
“I’m sorry. I think my thoughts wandered off with me. What were you saying?” Xania asked; so much for faking the listener’s role.
“We will be attending a dinner tonight and you will be wearing the purple dress. I will make sure that everything I want you in is laid out for your convenience. Be ready at 1800. We must leave on time,” he said.
She nodded. Xania stirred her coffee and took another taste. It hadn’t gotten any better with cooling.
“This function is important and we must present ourselves well,” he stated.
Xania took another sip of coffee, watching him. Should she say something? No, he was satisfied with his speech, at least for now. It was the same thing every time. Nothing changed. Must make good impressions. Must be the image of the crown.
“Let’s get out of here.” He threw four gold on the table, plenty for four meals like he had eaten, including a generous tip; so frivolous with money.
Even now, she didn’t have that kind of buying power. But did make sure that she had plenty of spending money for the few occasions that he allowed her to roam on her own. Well, not on her own. He always sent his pack of men to follow her around. She was his prize little pet. Couldn’t have her stray too far. Why was a play thing so important to him?
She wanted to finish her coffee, but she set her cup down and got up with him. “Where to now?”
“The Black Corner is open. We will spend some time there.” He smiled.
It was a thin smile that didn’t reach to his eyes. They never did. She wasn’t sure that his smiles ever had. Did he know the kind of happiness that poured from the soul and painted your whole face? Had he at least once?
Enero took her elbow and led her to the door. She hated the way his fingers wormed their way into the hollowed spots around her joint and pressed themselves there. She always got visions of his fingers burrowing into her flesh. She shivered.
“You cold?” He asked as he opened the door.
She stepped out onto the street. The sun was bright and painful to her eyes, but the day was still cold. An autumn breeze promised winter snows. She pulled her coat around her and worked the buttons. Then his claw was again snatching up her arm and ushering her along, as if she’d get lost. She sighed and let him lead her along the streets she knew better than he did. He could have had a driver pick him up or gotten a cab, but he always insisted on walking with the ever present herd of men following behind them.
So, they walked.
It didn’t take long for Enero to get a room and usher her into it. There was always one waiting for them. This was his favorite place to be. She didn’t know why. The little diner on the corner was just your regular place with the standard fare. This was just the standard tavern that offered nothing special. Did he like escaping the royal life? Well, even here he was royal and treated differently then anyone else who came. He must know that.
Romance was completely unknown to him. He spent little effort in chatting or foreplay and got to business. Tired and bored, Xania faked her orgasm. She was glad when he rolled away and lit up his cigarette. She’d hoped they could be social now, sometimes it seemed like they were real people. When that happened it was almost always after sex. But instead he was grumpy.
He said something under his breath, more a growl then speech. Xania sighed and rubbed her eyes, tired. She stood up and reached for the pack of cigarettes. Enero got up, came around the bed and slapped her; hard, sending her stumbling back. She put her hand to the forming red mark on her cheek. She let her surprise spill over her face.
“Get out.” Her voice was ice.
At first, he did nothing. He then tipped his head to one side and raised an eyebrow at her. Then there was a small twitch at the corner of his mouth, a little hint of a smile. Enero reached for her, but she backed away.
Tears came into her eyes. She just looked at him. She wanted to be alone. She wanted to hit him. She wanted to take out all the hurt and hate out on this terrible thing before her. But, she couldn’t. Doing so would equal her death.
“I’m sorry, Babe,” he whispered.
His voice was silk and honey. The hands on her arms were warm. Just they they always were when he was saying he was sorry. The only time he was gentle and soft. His large blue eyes were liquid vulnerability, pouring out on her. This was the best of him, right here. The only time he let any one see it and he saved it for her. Seeing him like this hurt.
Why did she put up with this shit? She could leave Listama and find a new life somewhere out of his reach. But how long was his arm? Or that of his father? Would they be forced to leave the kingdom? Because she knew that he would chase his little play thing. He had always kept her in this golden box. She had been raised right along side her, plucked up from who knew where by his father. Such a little treasure.
A heavy fist pounded the door. Relief and regret gripped her chest. There would be no more hitting, but the beautiful Enero was gone.
“Yes?” Enero bellowed.
“A message, My Lord. It’s urgent.”
Enero gave Xania a sharp look and whispered, “Behave.” Then he called, “Come,” to the messenger behind the door.
The door swung open and a young man stepped into the room. He bowed respectfully and waited for Enero’s word before rising.
“Well, what the hell is so important?” Enero snapped.
“This, My Lord.” The young man pulled out a small silver locket that hung from a long silver chain.
Xania thought for a moment that a shadow passed over the man’s eyes. A living thing, slimy.
“It’s a locket,” Enero growled.
He was getting bored and impatient.
“Yes, My Lord, but its what is inside that you’ll need to know about.”
The man opened it to reveal a small pool of silver rippling in the well of the locket. Liquid Steel. Xania jumped at the young man, reaching out to grab the locket. Too slow. The locket spun through the air, spilling its deadly contents in a spiraling rain. At the same time, Enero grabbed Xania from behind, pulling her back and turning to shield her with his body.
Enero was not fast enough to save her from the acidic silver. It struck her on the shoulder and arm, burning away the velvet of her shirt and into her flesh. It devoured to the bone. Xania fell back into Enero’s embrace, pulling him down with her weight. A small drop grazed his cheek, leaving a hollowed path there. They slumped to the floor together. Xania’s head struck the tile with an empty cracking sound.
Yelling. Gun fire. Some one was calling her, telling her that she had to come. It was very important. Enero pulling her into his arms. So many people filling the room. Blood splashed down around her. A man yelled. Then a man with brown eyes was looking down at her and he was telling her that it was important that she came. The tree is dying.
Xania’s eyes fluttered open.
Enero cradled her awkwardly.
“Xania?” he whispered.
“He’s alright,” she thought.
Those vulnerable liquid eyes.
“The tree is dying,” Xania gurgled.
He furrowed his eyebrows, opened his mouth to say something, but then didn’t. He pulled her closer, enraging the blaze over her flesh. Its little teeth gnawed at her faster. She winced at the heavy pounding that began to drum in her skull. She blinked her eyes carefully, feeling fuzzy around the edges. She started to sit up but couldn’t.
“Oh, gods,” Enero whispered.
There was something different in his eyes now. Sweat beaded up along his forehead and his eyes went wide.
“Everyone get out!” he commanded.
There was movement around them. He loosened his grip on her, holding her with only one arm so that she sagged, he back arching painfully.
“Get the fuck out! Now!” he screamed, waving his arm.
More movement. Then everything around them was still. He laid her carefully on the floor and after a moment, she heard the lock of the door click.
He knelt down beside her. Xania smiled. She closed her eyes, fighting off the tears that welled up inside her. She was going to die. She wasn’t ready.
“You’ll be alright.”
Enero laid a gentle hand on her cheek. Warm fingers. He was glowingly beautiful.
“Liar,” Xania whispered.
She struggled to take a breath.
“I’m not ready to die,” she confessed.
Tears Spilled down his cheeks and dropped painfully onto her fore head. Everything hurt. Then she felt something pulling at her heart, tugging her. Come. Come. Come.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered.
She didn’t know who was calling her, but they were asking too late.
“Hey, it’s alright. It’s alright.”
He smoothed her hair from her face.
Beep. Come. Beep. The tree is dying. Beep. Full system over ride. Beep. Come. Beep. Initiating command sequence 27432. Beep. There isn’t time. Beep. Renewal initiated and Gaia Shard engaged. Beep.
Xania’s eyes flicked open. She was laying on the floor bed, looking up into Enero’s watchful eyes. The carpet was thin and threadbare. Beep. Peeling wallpaper with once light yellow painted walls. Beep. Everything looked sharp and crisp. Beep. Everything in focus for the first time. Beep. Xania screamed, full of strength she shouldn’t have.
“Xania?” Enero reached out to her but a great wave of energy pulsed out of her and struck Enero in the chest like a great hand. She flung her arms out from her body and a blue light pulsated over her flesh. She slowly rose from the floor, turning herself so that her feet, toes pointing downward, hung an inch above the carpet.
“I’m not going to die,” she whispered, as if from a great distance.
“Life Drive engaged,” she droned.
Her mouth dropped open. This time the beep was long and Enero could hear it too. It came from her mouth, but it wasn’t her voice.
Come. The Life Tree is dying. Dipak needs you.