PRICES GO UP AT THE GATE
Scene 1, Act 1
A Memory Of Things To Come
I thought about it... it wasn't much of a thought, but it did cross my mind.
Strange how warm it feels, having so much on the ground around me. I knew there wasn't much time left, but not being able to do much than stare at the sky, I was happy. Glad, that I wasn't staring at the patch of dirt I was laying on.
How did I manage to get here? I'm dreaming, because this really can't be the sound of my dying heart... right?
No... I failed, because I couldn't conquer myself.
Beautiful you are tonight, Luna. Thank you for being full at this particular point in time. Or should I thank the one that laid me to waste instead? What a joke, thanking the very thing that put me here?! I must be dying...
What? Did I drift off? ...damn, yeah I did. The moon shifted positions. Why aren't I dead yet?
His eyes focus on movement, a movement across the moon, herself.
What is that? Why is it growing larger?
The closer the image got, the more detail he was able to distinguish.
A person? Wait... why are they flying... now, I'm really dying.
It wasn't long before the person was hovering over his mangled body. He would see it smile, looking over him with such a predatory gaze.
"Look at you. You've done so much, yet you failed the one thing you thought never could happen.'
A female, rather throaty tone but all feminine.
He tries to open his mouth, to speak but he can't. His breathing, it's shallow, fast. Something important is crushed.
A finger upon this moving lips. Slender, slightly chilled, "Speak not, for you can not. Speak within yourself, I'll listen intently."
She's mocking me?
"You can hear me?"
As he speaks within the chambers of his mind.
"Of course, I can. I heard your monologue while I was crossing the Stars and Moon."
A chuckle suddenly strikes him, even his body reflects how funny he finds this, but only a rasp is audible heard.
"How funny to be heard by... who are you? What are you?"
She smiles again, those teeth... so brilliantly white, dangerous, oddly comforting. A quick death, not this suffering.
Yes, upset this creature. She'll devour me, then.
"You're delirious, you don't have much to live. Your heart is far gone, pumping something so empty causes much damage."
A thought strikes him.
"Kill me, then. Make it quick for me."
She laughs! Deep, throaty laugh. All woman... such a beautiful sound. She leans down, I can see her smile even more clearly. Her eyes, such deceptively warm eyes. Eyes of a lioness, light emerald and misty grey.
Yes! Kill me!
"I'm going to make you an offer, darkling of mine. You boldly seek death, you do not beg for life. You sought out life, but never begged for more than what was your fate in death. So I give you a choice. Seek death with me or find life thereafter."
Her breath is upon my skin, she smells of cinnamon and honey. He shivers, he knows what he wants. He wants to be near her, closer to her. His body aches with the desire. The base desire to survive.
So he smiles at her, there is always a third option.
"How can I conquer the world, if I can not conquer myself."
Her eyes narrow, those cat like eyes dilate. She is pleased.
She bites her tongue and forcefully kisses him.
Vitae. Sweet, like honey. Savory, like cinnamon.
With his final strength, he lifts his unbroken arm and wraps it around her, before he passes on to the unknown.
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.
Scene 1, Act 2
A Morning To Remember
His breathing is even, level with the pace of his rather slow beating heart.
Wait? Slow beating heart…
He’s awakes suddenly, sitting up straight, panting for breath at the sudden urgent desire. He looks around, he’s home? He looks down at himself, pulling his shirt up. His body is intact, his arms are moving freely.
What the hell sort of dream was that?!
He looks around, confused. Still panicked he pushes his covers off his body, standing he rushes for the door and opens it. All is quiet.
He moves to his sister’s bedroom door and puts his ear against it. He can barely hear her level breathing.
Breathing, yes. She’s okay.
A thirst assaults him and the taste of something lingers in his mouth.
Deciding that he needs something to drink, he heads downstairs. Looking around wearingly, not sure what to expect.
Finding the kitchen, he pads over to the cabinet, pulls out a glass and looks around again. He’s suspicious; he doesn’t trust what he’s experiencing just yet.
What was this taste he had in his mouth?
Water, sweet water pours into the glass from the faucet. A drink or two later, he turns to lean up against the counter. A suddenly movement in the kitchen makes him jump. Only to find his erratic mother, peering at him with sleepy eyes, “You’re up early, Chrisy.”
She walks over to the fridge and pulls a carton of milk, without a second thought she takes a drink straight from the carton.
This annoys him, “If you want, I could offer you a glass you know.”
She looks at him, slightly confused, “Why? It’s not like I have a venereal diease.”
He pales at bit at this, she just laughs his distaste off, “Soooo… did you have fun last night?”
She gives him an all too knowing look.
Confusion, “Wha--, uh… No?”
She pouts slightly, “Come on, Christopher. You’re twenty one years old, it’s not like you’re a high schooler anymore.”
Sighing, he rolls his eyes as he takes another drink to clear the lingering taste of...
…what? Why can't I explain this taste in my mouth??
She pffts at him, “Fine, don’t tell me… At least she's dishy.”
He almost drops his glass, turning to look at his mother, “D-Dishy?! What do you mean?!”
This eggs her on, but she maintains a very sans innocent stance, “Oh? You know, the lovely woman that brought you home after a hard night of drinking.”
He freezes, the taste in this mouth…
“You really need to be careful, Chrisy. Schnapps is viciously deceptive.”
His voice quivers, “Schnapps?”
She nods, taking another drink of milk, “Yeah, cinnamon if I’m not mistaken.”
Somehow he manages to put the glass down on the counter behind him.
This couldn’t be right, but the looks his mother was giving him was indisputable
It was a good thing he put the glass down.
At that moment, she rounded the corner. She was wearing a shirt. His shirt. His old button up shirt from his high school days, looking bedraggled and appropriately sleepy eyed. He had to lean forward and grab the kitchen island for support.
As if the most natural thing in the world had just occurred, his mother breaks into a warm smile, “Goooooood mornin’, Maricella! Hope the guest bedroom was to your liking.”
Maricella offered her a very bemused and tired looking smile, “Oh my, yes. Thank you for letting stay the night; I don’t know how Christopher and I managed to get home as tipsy as we were.”
“No problem! I’m just glad he’s managed to relax after all these years of being nothing, but striving for excellence.”
I was staring at her now, unbelieving. She was here, wearing my old button up. In my house… In my house!!
“You’re wearing my shirt!!”
Damn... is that the best you could come up with?!
She just smiles and looking down at herself, “Really?” She extends her arms out and sort gives a half turn to the left and to the right, then she gives him a rather innocent look, “Do I not look good in it, Christopher?”
What the hell?!
“Uh… t-t-th-that’s not the point here! Why are you sleeping in my clo--“
“Geeeez, will you put a lid on it, Chrisy. There are some of us that like to sleep in on a Saturday.”
Christopher jumped as his sister, Sapphire, had her way over to her mother, taking the milk and drinking from the carton as well.
This only lit a fire under Christopher and spurred him to new heights!
“Does anyone know how to use a glass in this house anymore?!”
Sapphire gives him a very stern look, “You’ve been keeping secrets, Chrisy. You never told us you had such a beautiful…” with one hand holding the carton, she managed to put some quotes in the air, “…friend.”
Christopher is flabbergasted!
“She isn’t my friend! I ju—“ the look both his sister and mother gave him, suddenly made him realize what he was saying, “…what I mean is, she’s uh… well… she’s…”
“What he’s trying to say is that we are acquainted, we’ve met several times at the job agency and last night Christopher and I were celebrating the possibility of a job offer.”
Christopher nodded very enthusiastically, “What she said, yup!”
“Whatever, point is…” Sapphire pointed at him with the carton of milk, “…you kept this from me!”
“Listen, Sapph, it’s not like that. We honestly spoke in length last night. I swear it.”
“It’s true, little sis. Christopher was rather manly when he made his move and invited to have a drink with him.”
Mollified, she nodded a bit sullenly, only to offer the carton of milk to Maricella. With a smirk, she took that carton and gave it a swig. Sapphire gave her brother an impish grin, since now the poor carton of milk was sullied by everyone in the household.
Resigned, he looked up to the ceiling and a sigh escaped his lips, “…I give up.”
This brought a laugh out of Sapphire, which made their mother laugh and so infectious was their combined laughter that even Maricella joined in on the fun.
He couldn’t help it, they were all laughing so hard that it even started to bubble from within his own body and he burst into laughter as well.
Though the morning left him with more questions and zero answers, he was glad about one thing.
The lioness had a sense of humor.
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.
Scene 1, Act 3
The Doldrums then the Promise of Wind
The morning had ended rather uneventfully, his erratic mother had just finished ironing out Maricella’s clothing, which involved a simple blouse, skirt and thigh high stockings. She would have looked girlish, if it weren’t for those deceptively hungry eyes.
As they stepped outside, the morning air was promising of the heat to come.
She terrified him, was they walked down the narrow walkway unto the sidewalk. She utterly and completely terrified him, but he was somehow able to manage to keep himself from breaking into a dead run.
Sapphire had gone back to bed; she had made Christopher promise that he and Maricella would come back after their job interview was done.
This little lie was too much for Christopher, it was too bad he worried for nothing.
“I’m surprised you’re able to stand after last night, Christopher. Not only that, but you were lucky I was able to convince your mother and sister your clothing weren’t totally ruined.”
He turned to look at her, as he narrowed his eyes.
“You didn’t do anything to harm them, did you?”
She only smiled, her predatory smile and looked up to the sky before answering.
“You’d be surprised what I can and cannot do. It was only an illusion, nothing more exotic. Though your mother kept talking about cinnamon schnapps, which I found highly amusing.”
This confused Christopher slightly.
“Why would you find that funny? After you kissed me, I’m surprised she couldn’t smell the sweetness of honey as well.”
This brought a curious look to her features, her eyebrow lifted only slightly
“Oooh? Honey, you say?”
“Yes! Cinnamon and honey, which I was devoid of partaking this morning…”
The look she gave him was one of high amusement, but before she could say anything he Christopher, realizing what he just said, clarified.
“Not you… I mean breakfast, honeyed toast and cinnamon coffee.”
As if on cue, his stomach growled in protest.
She burst into a deep, deep laughter. God, why was she affecting him in such polar opposite ways! First, he’s ready to run away from her, now he wants to run at her.
“We’ll find something to eat on our way to the interview, but we’ll have to make it something we can eat once we reach our destination.”
Why is she playing at this interview thing even now? I mean seriously.
Her tone of voice changed slightly, it was less lighthearted, more the serious voice he remembered in this half forgotten dream.
“Simply, because it’s the true, Christopher we are required to make an appearance now that I’m official sponsoring you.”
He stopped and frowned at her, a very deep frown at that.
“What the hell are you going on about? Sponsor me? For what?”
She looked at him and said rather patiently.
“Christopher, your number is up. You should be dead and gone by now. Nothing should have interfered with your death, but what should have been an accident was instead turned into you being used as a human pin cushion. This changed your fate, ever so slightly, but it was changed by external sources. I’m sponsoring you being alive right now and for that we need to interview our compatibility and your new career path.”
If Christopher had wished for his own confusion, it was eluding him now. Maybe he even wished for the solace of confusion, but by now the trauma of it all was becoming an increasingly distant memory.
Was he always like this? Able to push aside what should have been and accept what is?
Whatever the cause, she was looking at him. Watching him and more specifically watching his reaction.
He knew this to be of critical importance.
I know this is important… very important… It’s not that I don't trust you. You saved my life, but there is something there... something...
“...we share that's deeper now. I know.”
Maricella looked relieved, as she started walking again. Christopher followed her behind once again.
They stopped at a convenience store for something that could be considered breakfast. Christopher had stopped asking questions by now, content to mull over what information he already had rattling around in his head. The problem was simple, he should have died, but for some reason something interfered with his death. The question of how Maricella happened upon him was irrelevant at this point, but it could keep until another more important question was answered.
“So this is the ultimate job interview? Answer correctly or you die.”
“In a nutshell, yes. You die and I’m cast out for interfering with your Thread.”
“Wait? Thread? Cast out??”
“Hmm. The interview is to decide if my actions are a serious threat to our by-laws. To determine if the relevance to my actions require punishment; they will want to know what attacked you, how I came about to finding you and why I decided to make you part of my Thread, or Fate.”
“Come to think of it, I’d like to know the answer to those questions as well.”
She only smirked, but never turned around.
Silence once again filled between them. He knew that she required this quiet between them. Perhaps even predators required a time of silence between kills.
It wasn’t long before the heat of the day started to assault them. Hunger was starting to become a persistent issue. They had been walking for what seemed hours. In the entire time, she had kept mostly to herself.
Christopher’s mind wandered. So much had happened since that night and there was the problem. He couldn’t remember anything previous to those hours that should have been most pertinent. He remembered leaving the house, finishing up his job hunt. He had decided on burning time by watching a movie. From the time between leaving the movie theater and him laying face up in a pool of his own blood was a complete an utter blank.
This worried him and the what if’s started to rise up from within him. The sweat on his brow had become an issue with him. Why was it so bloody hot?!
“How much longer is it?”
“We are almost there, Christopher.”
She turned to look at him for only a moment, but said nothing else.
He sighed. What else could he do? Hunger, pain, sweat… what did it all mean really in the end?
It meant he was alive.
Looking at her, he knew in the deepest part of him that this woman, this creature to be incredible dangerous. He felt it in the very marrow of his bones. The smile, the laugh as she hovered over him was nothing compared to the stark terror he felt that moment leaving his home alone with her.
Yet, with all of that present, he felt an undeniable attraction to her, why shouldn’t he? She was beautiful, with her light emerald, misty grey eyes. Hair the color of harvest ready wheat, the length and wave of which reminded him of a field of the stuff swaying in the wind. Athletic and confident, well propositioned for a woman of a height of at least five eight, with a smile that brought a quickening of his blood within his veins and skin gently kissed by the sun.
He felt lucky, to be honest. She had saved him, for no other reason that his own merit. This woman was not a creature of pity, there was a reason for this union and whatever that reason was he had yet to find out.
Suddenly, out of the heat and sun and walking, Maricella and Christopher reached a small park. He heard her exhale, just as a cool wind picked up and started to slowly wipe away the oppressive heat. She turned and smiled at him, this time it wasn’t a smile of hunger, but of thanks.
“I guess it’s not your time, Christopher. I’m happy, I truly am.”
Christopher was confused suddenly, looking around as he found himself standing in a park not a mile from his home.
“What the hell just happened?”
She smiled again, offering him the bag of goodies.
“We were interviewed, Christopher. You passed without any provocation and my own punishment was remanded. We are free to pursue our new Thread together, our choices for which path to follow will be coming with a representative of this new world you’ve been enlisted into by my own will and your merit.”
Finding a seat, he took it, looking up at her in a daze.
Christopher now fully appreciating the fact that she had actually been tense, worried and her silence was to prevent her from betraying their situation.
“You look like you’ve just dodge a speeding bus, Maricella.”
She smiles, this was in fact the first time that he had called her by name.
“I did, Christopher. I truly did, I like your mother and sister and had you of failed the test. I would have been compelled to execute my punishment.”
Fear gripped him, he didn’t want to ask, but he couldn’t help himself.
“What was your punishment?”
She sat down next to him and looked up; he could see sadness, such a deep sadness from those light emerald, misty grey eyes.
“Your life, their lives would have been forfeit.”
Shock, outrage, hate… any number of these things should have been filling him right about now, but instead.
“Here,” he offered her the still wrapped breakfast burrito, “Let’s eat and be happy that we’ve managed to survive another day.”
She turned to look at him, incredulous. With unbelieving eyes, she took the food into her hand and looked at him as he offers her a bottle of green tea. He had started to open his own bottle, when he happened to glance at her and he smiled.
“Maricella, you saved my life at the cost of something unknown. That you like my mother and sister comforts me. I’d rather be the servant in a house of lions, than the prey outside.”
She smiled at this. Looking down at the bottle and opening the top. She took a drink and exhaled happily.
He called me a lion…
She narrowed her eyes, her pupils dilated. She was very pleased.
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.
Act 1, Scene 4
Thrice Upon the Heart, The Lioness and Wolf start
Having kept his promise to Sapphire, all four had spent the day playing games, watching a few movies and then just chatting among themselves.
Maricella was a mystery to everyone so it had started with her. To Christopher’s ear, she was either a good liar or she had an immaculate cover story, which sometimes account for both.
An only child, she had inherited a modest trust left by her parents after a sickness had unexpectedly left her an orphan. She had been old enough to care for herself and spent the remainder of her high school years preparing for college. She had decided after a year of college, that she would much rather work for the time being and supplement her income to keep from using up her trust and found herself at the same agency as Christopher.
As for Christopher, is sister and mother were far too delighted to fill in Maricella. Having completed high school at seventeen, he was accepted into the university of his choice and within three years had graduated with top honors in the field of civil engineering. Once the more mundane aspect of his academic achievements were done away with, all three ladies then poured over the fat stack of the family’s picture album.
Though Christopher found this mildly embarrassing, he contented himself with drinking his iced tea and pondering his new course and his new lease on life.
Oddly enough, he felt slightly dejected by the prospect that his life should have ended yesterday. He wanted to feel sorry for himself, but those emotions evaporated when he looked upon the smiling face of his sister and that of his erratic mother. Having to think of them in mourning for his loss was unacceptable to him and more now because of Maricella. He owed her a debt he could never repay.
It wasn’t long before the albums were picked clean, the thought of hyenas and other carrion eaters brought a morbid sense of amusement out of Christopher, but what could any male, of any species, understand the mind of a female?
“Miss Adara, I thank you for your hospitality. I can’t thank you enough for the warmth you’ve offered me on such short notice.”
Christopher’s mom just beamed at her a rather bright smile, waving it off as she put away the albums
“Don’t be silly, Maricella. I’m repaying you for keeping my son from sleeping in a gutter somewhere. He would have never been man enough to come home after a night of heavy drinking.”
Wonderful, thanks for the clever alibi, now they think I’m a lush.
“You’re more than welcome! I’ll keep an eye on him and make sure he doesn’t overindulge himself next time.”
“What just one minu--!”
“Maricella,” rather dramatically his mother walked over to Maricella, wiping an imaginary tear from her eyes with her free hand, as the other took and gripped one of Maricella's hands,“He doesn’t deserve you!”
This was getting out of hand… again!
“Now Chrisy,” of course Sapphire had to say something, “Just because you’re a lush doesn’t excuse you from bad behavior.”
“I am not a lush!! I miscalculated!”
The looks all three of them gave him were rather nonplussed, but Maricella seemed to be the most entertained.
Now I’m playing to the damnable lie she started! Ugh!
“Whatever. I’m going to take a shower and then head to bed. You three can enjoy ganging up on me, while I’m not around to hear it.”
Having picked up his glass of tea, he finished off the rest and walked into the kitchen, setting it down in the sink and as he headed for the bathroom. For the time being, he didn’t care about anything else. They could have fun at his expense and laugh until morning. In that space of time between turning on the water and then shutting if off, it was his world. Nothing matter but the heat of the water upon his body. He had always enjoyed the isolation he felt when he showered, thankful for the plumbing and tankless heater that produced such a luxury. In that moment in time, all his troubles just melted away. The very same feeling he had when he went swimming. Perhaps it was his love of water.
After about an hour, he finished up the necessary rituals and wrapped in his a towel, trotted upstairs to his bedroom. The fan in his room made for a handy way to dry off and in no time, he was wearing a pair of shorts and lying on his bed. As he had made his way upstairs, he had heard their collective laughter.
Good, now I can get some rest in peace for once…
Slowly, as he let his mind slip off into the nether, his body fell into sleep.
He was suddenly awakened, but before he could react, a blade materialized upon his throat. His eyes were adjusting too quickly in the darkness, but his sense of smell told him immediately who was using the knife against him.
“…Maricella, have you decided that you've had enough of me?”
He wanted to swallow, but was afraid to do so. She was straddling him, the knife effectively pinning him down on the bed. He felt her hand press up against his chest as she leaned into him.
“Perhaps. You left me. Why did you leave me?”
“You three were having some fun at my expense; I didn’t want to disturb the mood.”
She laughed softly, “You really are sensitive under all those layers of callous skin and soul.”
This earned her a growl, but the knife pressed up against him even harder.
“Oh? A dog growling at his master?” There was a dangerous smirk in her tone of voice.
“A wolf, growling for his life.”
“That’s curious, when did you become a wolf?”
“Why are you using something as crude as a knife, don’t you have claws or something more exotic?”
Why in the nine Hells was he taunting her like this?!
“You really are something else, my dearest darkling. The lioness and the wolf, sounds like a fable of some sorts, don’t you agree?”
Her sudden kiss was what surprised him the most, only this time there was no vitae. Only her lips against his.
Vitae, the ancient word for blood.
He returned her kiss, leaning up against the blade and in the process drawing blood. There it was again, the irrational desire to be close to this woman.
After a deliciously agonizing minute of kissing her, she pulls away. She smiles, but without flashing her teeth, just her lips curl upward lightly. A thin thread of their saliva holding them together, this moment suddenly burning within his mind. What was it? That blood of hers that now flowed within him, as irrational as that sounded, he knew her essence resided within him. Or was this more mundane and just his body reacting to such a desirable woman?
Why do you have this effect on me?
“You’re so very naïve, Christopher. Yet, it’s perfectly acceptable; I want these moments to last as long as possible. This naïve, honest questioning of ‘is it truly me or the blood of her within me’.”
“You speak as if this has happened before, Maricella.”
Moving the knife away from his neck the look, oh that sultry look, she gives him, “It has, would you like to know how many?”
He turns his eyes away from her, turning his face from her and even to the point of closing his eyes.
Why should I feel envy?! Naïve is right.
“Do not look away, my darkling,” her voice is oddly gently as she leans down to coax him to turn and look back at her, she manages this by using her nose to do the coaxing, “What was, is just that. What we are now is what matters. You’re the first that I’ve chosen of my own volition. You are my first darkling.”
His eyes hold her stare, “Why do you call me that? Darkling?”
A smile, a gentle sort of smile, “Darkling is a term of endearment, it means that we are connected by the Night, you and I are something special. Rarely seen in our world, one of the Maidens of Night, taking on a human on the verge of death, a darkling that sang to me, called me from my wanderings a unique and beautiful wolf.”
“You came here with a knife, to chastise me for leaving you. Or was that just an excuse to sneak into my room and steal yet another kiss?”
He wasn’t mad, not really.
A hint of seriousness is found as she speaks, “No, Christopher. There is a reason, but I had to have a little fun.” She sat up, but she continued to straddle his hips, he managed to prop himself up against one of his elbows, “We must swear to each other, three separate oaths before our representative comes calling. Thrice we must swear against our hearts, thrice shall we swear fealty to each other.”
Christopher found this ritual curious, but he was new to this world and he wasn’t going to make light of anything, he would give this ritual its due level of reverence. Using his free hand, he wrapped his arm around her waist and sat up, holding her close to him. Had anyone decide to walk in on them at that moment would have made for a very satisfyingly awkward moment.
“Very well, then. How do we start?”
She was glad for the darkness, because a flush crept infuriatingly without consent across her cheeks
“Listen to my words and speak the your own promises,” she took a breath.
“Thrice upon the heart we swear, twice as one a fealty paired, that once a warning will impair, the promises left before us. I, of the heart of lion do swear to protect, to educate and to respect my only care.”
A small spark appeared before her heart as she looked up, Christopher could see the flush across her cheeks, perhaps she wasn't so different after all. Perhaps she too held a frailty within her. A small corner of her that required more than empty words or promises, then inspiration stuck him.
“Thrice upon the heart we swear, twice as one of fealty paired, that once a warning will impair, the promises left before us. I, of the heart of wolf do swear my hand, my heart and my love, my only care.”
He thought he saw something, a widening of her eyes, a moment where she was going to speak, but his spark burst out of him so joyfully and merged inside of her that it made her gasp. Her spark did much the same, it seemed to teleport form her and then he gasp as it found itself within his breast.
They were gripping each other fiercely; the power surged through them like a current of energy and lasted for what seemed like hours. After an eternity of having this alien magick infuse every cell of his being, he gently released the grip around her waist.
He was panting, not sure what to expect, but to his utter surprise he found that Maricella was lying against him rather limply. Carefully he moved her so that she was lying on his bed, his concern slowly draining as he noticed her steady breathing. He pulled the covers over her gently and coaxes a few strands of hair away from her face. In the light of the moon that filtered through, he could see that odd fragility and also a peacefulness about her.
I'll be your strength from now on, my lioness.
And like a warrior of old, he sat down on the floor, one knee bent up and the one leg lying comfortably underneath. He closed his eyes as he drifted in that semi-state of conscious thought, the hovered between full wakefulness and sleep.
Oddly aware of his surroundings, as three sacred oaths that now burned within his heart fueled him.
There upon the ground lay the wolf, and upon the rock the lioness.
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.
Act 1, Scene 5
The Simple Art of Arbitration
Falling, falling, and falling down.
Something in the distance, a shape, a body, “Please, please. For the love of all things! Please don’t let it be him!”
Dragging and dragging and dragging over.
His voice! Oh, gods not his voice!!
Warm… wet… sticky.
The voice trails off; too much of him has been spilt. Death, nothing but death!
The world burns around them, yes. The world burns to ash around them.
Yet, you live. You live, you that are el Escudo, you that are to protect, you that failed la Espada, you that survived.
Maricella violently wakes up; drenched in sweat, panting… she puts her fist into her mouth to keep from screaming out. She is shivering, shaken by this all too vivid dream.
Free hand moves to her side, it lacks a certain person.
Panic sets in, where’s Christopher?!
She looks, but the dark is too oppressive. She’s blinded by her own violent awakening, her hands grope the sheets. Nothing, he’s gone… he’s gone… he’s gone like… like… like…
Her adrenaline sets in. Her vision clears, she can see again. Then, a shape next to the bed, head slightly bent downwards. She bites down hard, she tastes blood.
No… no… not again!
Free hand quivers, she must touch him. She must!
Hair, soft hair… Stress levels suddenly rocketing. Eyes are now burning with excess intake of light. Pupils are too dilated.
Movement, she makes a sound. He turns, confused, concerned.
Too much… too much, then suddenly blackness, relief overcomes her.
The night speaks no longer, as she lies upon the sheets, drenched.
The morning comes in bright, too bright. She tries to open her eyes, but it hurts too much. It’s then that she hears movement and the sound of something sliding.
“Are you alright, my dear?”
A woman’s voice, it was Christopher’s mother Adara, “There the light shouldn’t be as bad now.”
A croak, then a few words later, “I’m okay, just… very thirsty for some reason.”
Maricella turns as she hears something being poured into a glass, “Here you go, drink slowly. Christopher woke me up in a panic, he said he heard a noise and found you drenched in sweat.”
Maricella could tell she didn’t fully buy her son’s explanation, but wasn’t just yet ready to level any sort of punishment until it was confirmed or denied by Maricella.
“I can see why he would be upset, then.” Which was true, without giving away too many details, she was sure he found her in disarray.
“I worry about him sometimes, I’m just glad he wasn’t up to any shenanigans then.”
“No need to worry, Adara.”
She nodded, looking relieved that he wasn’t doing anything perverted. Crisis averted.
Though this brought something rather important to mind as she sat up more, “Where is Christopher?”
A knock on the doorframe and Sapphire walks in with a tray of food, “I sent him to the convenience store to get some more milk, he was hovering and we needed to restock.”
Maricella was visibly relieved, as Sapphire set the tray on her lap gently, “Worried about my daft older brother?”
A smile, an honest smile came about her, “Yeah… oddly enough.”
Sapphire sits down at the foot of the bed and sighs knowingly, “Nothing odd about it, he has that effect on people.”
Adara starred to hum happily and then nods as if to agree, as she spoke her voice had a very melodic quality, as if speaking in beat to the song, “He’s always had my heart, and Sapph here my soul.” As she leans down to kiss her daughter on the temple, “I’ll go make us some breakfast now.”
As Adara leaves, Sapphire turns to look at Maricella more fully, “Do you need to borrow some clothing?”
Maricella face turns slightly pink, “Forgive me! I haven’t had a chance to go back home, sometimes the most mundane things…”
Sapphire just giggles it off, “Don’t worry about it. You’re slightly more developed than me in the chest area, but I’m sure you’ll be able to squeeze in just nicely.”
Maricella just nods, bemused by this kindness, “How is it that you three as so kind to me?”
Smiling, Sapphire stands up, “Our mother taught us well, I hope to one day emulate her and make my own husband as happy as she made my father.”
Maricella starts to chew on her bottom lip lightly, nodding lightly. Sapphire just gave her a sad, but warm smile and leaves the room, calling to her as she makes her way out, “I’ll be back in a bit with something for you wear!”
Maricella nods, with a smile, “I’ll be waiting, then.”
Lying back down on the bed, careful of the tray on her lap, she exhales a name.
As she closed her eyes, she inadvertently drifts off into sleep.
In the hall, Sapphire hears the murmur call and waits as her hand clutches her chest. She waits for a moment and then silently leaves for her room upstairs.
Christopher’s trip to the store took longer than usual, as they store closest to his home had run out of milk. Having texted his mother that he was going to be running a bit late, he made a dash for another store. As he finally made his return, he was a bit surprised to find that everyone, including another stranger were all seated in the living room.
It was his erratic mother that spoke up first, “Chrissy! Finally! Did you to the store down by Corner Street?!”
Christopher only nodded, “Yeah…” he stopped to give the man sitting in the living room a nod, “Welcome, sir.”
The man stood, Christopher noted the rather expensive looking suit he had on, “Ah, young Christopher!” actually bowing, he waved a hand in a rather grandiose gesture, “Please, carry on. I’ll be more than happy to wait until you’re ready to receive me. Your lovely family and Maricella have been keeping me with the loveliest of conversation.”
Christopher only arched an eyebrow at this peculiar man, but nodded as he went into the kitchen to put the milk away, no sooner had he made his way into the living room that Mr. P-P-Peeeeculiar start to speak again.
“Very well then, since we are all here now I will once again reaffirm my introduction,” bowing once again, only this time faaaar more gracefully than before, with a flourish of his hand, “I am Theodore Benedict Patrick, Esquire. I am a representative of the Patrick, Patrick and Patrick Law Office.”
Patrick, Patrick and Patrick? What are the chances!
Quite chancy if you ask me.
The voice was clearly the man's
In a blink, the world around him took on a very peculiar haze indeed. He could see his mother and his sister through the haze, but they were as still as stone statues. It was so surreal that when he heard the voice within his mind, actually speak he jumped!
“Now, now no need to be so jumpy, Christopher this way we can discuss what is most important about you and Maricella without having to kick your family out of having the illusion of being involved.”
Christopher was just about to object, when Maricella having kept silent the entire time since his return, stop him, “Don’t argue, Christopher. It’s important that you listen to Theodore.”
Exhaling and swallowing back his word, he nodded, “Fine…”
Theodore just smiled as he sat back down, “Most prudent! Now, we have decided what your fates will be, but this comes with certain conditions.”
Christopher frowned at this, “Already?”
Theodore just smiled at him, if not a bit darkly, “You have no concept of how lucky you are, Chrissy. Not only were you slated for death, your death did… had some rather valuable repercussions to a certain segment of the Society. Of course, my family and our law firm made a very healthy commission off your non-death so I can’t say we aren’t grateful for your ability to call upon a Maiden. In fact, it’s the only reason why I’m here; we owe you a certain degree of gratitude.”
Christopher had to clench his teeth. No one called him Chrissy, which was not his family. No one, yet this poof in expensive clothing had the guts to do so; it was Maricella again that cut him off at the pass.
“Christopher, please… this isn’t the time to try and get into a fight. Believe me when I tell you that we could not have asked for a better arbitrator.”
“Indeed! Due to your Sine awakening as you were dying you were able to call, of all the Maidens, the coeur de lion de jeune fille! The Lion heart Maiden! My boy, you’ve called the one maiden that swore to never again pickup her shield, to never again burn with the power of her House. Hence, the conditions you, dear Christopher are to become her Shield, she your Sword.”
Blankly, he looked between Theodore and Maricella. He didn’t want to sound insensitive, but…
Having not received any outburst from Christopher, Theodore looked quite displeased, “Have you told him nothing!?”
Maricella throw him a wilting look, “This wasn’t meant to be, Theo! You know this!! I meant to travel the sky and moon as my penance, never was I to be called by such a Sine! Yet, here I am trying to reconcile the fact that I’ll have to be saved by… what should have been my duty.”
She said this through clenched teeth, through eyes shut so tightly that tears were having a problem streaming down her cheeks. Christopher could see the pain and fully appreciated the situation now, “Is this like asking the flower to love the butterfly?”
Theodore expression turned to surprise and suddenly chuckled, so deep and low, as she shook his head in disbelief, “Only the chances are greater that such a thing could happen, Christopher. You would have an easier time turning stone to bread.”
He placed a hand upon Maricella’s shoulder and nodded, as she continued to weep silently to herself, “You’ve worked hard to allow this to happen, haven’t you?”
Theodore bowed, “Thank you for the acknowledgement. The simple answer is, yes. The complex answer is you don’t have any other choice, but to accept. No matter how impossible this may seem, you and Maricella will have to trade roles, she will have to imbue you with her Sine and you; well… you will have to relinquish yours to her and that’s the easy part. You will no longer be the man you are now, you will slowly change into something you cannot understand in your present form and Maricella, will change into something that’s far more human. In short, if you accept this agreement you will be a wolf in a pride of Lions and she will be a lion in the pack of Wolves.”
Something within Christopher resonated; he could understand why she was so distressed. A solemn oath cannot be broken by a proud lioness, but to live as a wolf. She would give up everything she knew all because his Sine called her. He never understood why he thought himself as a wolf, but whatever the reason, he was still a lone wolf and she had her own pride, both aspects of it, to consider.
“No…” the sudden looks from both Theodore and Maricella were of utter shock, “…she will not have to worry about leaving her responsibilities to a lone Wolf like myself. I shall take up both banners, using my own Sine to accomplish the task.”
Then he turned to look at Maricella, “Your oath, is that you will not pick up this role of Shield until your penance is complete, correct?”
She nodded, suddenly feeling a bit overwhelmed by his affirmation.
“I will not pretend to understand your world, I can hardly understand why I even call myself Wolf or the fact you two have acknowledge this as such, but will you lend me your strength? Will you be able to make up for the deficit of my own power until your oath is fulfilled?”
Such a simple answer to a complex question, “Y-Yes, of course, I never said I wouldn’t be of aid to another Shield.”
Turning to Theodore, his eyes narrowed slightly as he drove his own conditions into the fray, “There you have it. I shall live as a wolf among the lions, but never will a lioness have to live as a wolf.”
It hit Theodore at first with a silent chuckle, and then slowly it turned into a deep, resounding laugh. So very manic was this laugh! It took a while for him to gain some level of composure.
“Oh Christopher, I am pleased! I have never laughed so hard in my life! To challenge the will of the Society with an even better act of self-sacrifice! Consider it done and accepted!”
Then his eyes turned dark, his smile that of a devil
“Now I shall see how much you can suffer the aspects of both la Espada y le Escudo. You will find this path far from simple, but fear not because I will aid you along the way. Yes, I will aid to see just how much a Dark One like you can withstand before imploding from the pressure.”
Then, suddenly whatever space or magick he had cast was gone, his mother and sister came back to life from this previous immobile states. It as if nothing had happen, both had the impression that Christopher was now fully employed, that Maricella had a position as well within the firm.
Even as Theodore left, he felt the chill of his words echo in his mind.
I will aid you, just to see how much of a Dark One like you can withstand before imploding.
After all the pleasantries and Theodore leaving the house, Maricella said that she wanted to head back to bed, just to be on the safe side, so that by tomorrow she was at her full strengthen. After helping and getting reassurances of her well being, Christopher had noticed that her clothing looked rather familiar. Having left her room, he went in search of his sister, his mother returning with the empty tray and heading for the kitchen.
He found her in the living room cleaning up.
“Is she wearing one of your outfits?”
Sapphire suddenly smiled and nodded, “She is! What you think, did she look cute in my clothing or what?!”
Christopher couldn’t help but smile, in the past few days he’d been neglecting her, “Hey, are you busy today?”
She turned her fully attention to him now, her bright smile never leaving her, “Not really, why do you ask?”
“Since you have an off day today, why don’t we go out to movies or something?”
Sapphire’s heart filled with excitement, “Let me finish up here and I’ll go get ready!”
With a nod, Christopher returned the smile, “I’ll let mom know, then.”
She had already put all the cups away in the sink, so as she finished up straightening the living room Sapphire ran up stairs. Truth be told she had felt neglected by him, jealous of her, but her brother had once again pulled through. He always knew when to act to her benefit, always!
Yet even with this heart warming feeling, as she dressed and prepared herself for an outing with her brother, there was a feeling that still lingered and then the words that Maricella had uttered made her wonder all the more.
Has he forgotten? Has he forgotten the promise he made to me that day?
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.
Act 1, Scene 6
A Lioness Feels Rested
Christopher and Sapphire returned from their outing later that night, only to find that Maricella had gone home. Sapphire seemed slightly upset by the fact she left without saying goodbye, but Adara mollified her daughter by expressing Maricella's request that they forgive her absence, but that she would come around tomorrow morning to pick Christopher up.
A message tailored made for Christopher was also delivered, letting him know that she would make a call to the PP&P and see when they would get their first assignment together.
Christopher could only sigh and then had to endure the evil eye his sister was giving him for the remainder of their night before calling it quits for the day.
Christopher muttered to himself as he walked up the stairs, yawning, "What is her problem, I spent the whole day with her and she still acts like I've done something immoral."
Entering his room, he throws himself on the bed and closes his eyes, wondering to himself
What will tomorrow bring?
As he lay back in his bed, he pondered the events that were suddenly around him. It was a mire of confusing emotions and most of all the overbearing way that Theodore had set them up. He was an enemy to a ‘Society’ he had never known or even knew he could upset. His Sine, whatever it was, had managed to call an oath-sworn Maiden to his rescue.
The whole of it made his head spin; he was tired of trying to piece together fragments of this reality in such a emotional state. With that thought, he closed his eyes and exhaled.
Slowly, his mind organized the pieces, each piece removed of any emotional linkage, with every moment he slowly began to lay out the puzzle before him. Sometimes, it would make sense all at once he would get a spark of inspiration, but this time he only wanted to save himself the trouble of worry. With this technique, he would overcome all obstacles before him and be better prepared to embrace the next day.
He knew that Maricella still kept secrets, where she lived and how she survived before meeting him were objects of mystery. Somehow though, he would have to manage being both this… Sword and Shield… a concept that seemed to baffle Maricella and entertain Theodore, he hoped that whatever it was he could manage and overcome the problem, solve it and work within the bounds he set himself up with.
Another problem was going to be Sapphire; he knew or more so felt that she was going through some sort of crisis. This, he would have to approach carefully, he didn’t want to assume anything and until Sapphire allowed him to see more of this distress, he would just have to watch and see.
As his technique continued, he found himself in that moment of sleep, a lucid sleep as he read it once. A moment where you know that you are sleeping, even dreaming but the mind is still able to function, here in this state he managed, the unmanageable. In this place, he could do anything and with such a powerful tool, he would become a protector and aggressor.
Christopher woke up with a start, sleepy eyed he glanced over at his clock and yawned out.
Disappointed am I.
He managed to drag his butt out of bed and rather heavily head for the bath. He had opted to take one in the morning instead of the evening last night, getting up early wasn't his idea of fun, but it might help with whatever lay ahead this morning.
Somewhere between stripping down to nothing and falling asleep in the bath, he managed to open an eye only to find Maricella sitting on the edge of the bath.
Christopher jumped back with a startled cry, covering himself instinctively!
"Maricella!" It wasn't quite a croak, perhaps slightly strangled, with an nicely heightened tenor and perhaps even an octave higher than his normal pitch.
Her smile was back again, that hungry, predatory smile
"My. You truly make a lovely sound when your stratled, I might have to do it more often."
Leaning over, getting as close as possible to the now trapped Christopher.
"Perhaps Sapphire would find this scene a bit too much and kick your butt till next week, yeah?"
This time Christopher blushed to the roots of his hair, "A-Are you crazy!? She'll kill me if..."
A sound from upstairs, he could hear foot falls, as his blood started to run cold even in the heat of the water.
"Damn! She's going to be calling out s--"
"Christopher!!" Her voice carried itself from the bottom of the flight of stairs, "Stop taking so long and get ready! Maricella will be coming here to pick you up!"
Maricella just grinned, "Ooooh, she's in for a surprise when she finds out I'm already here.'
"Have you lost your mind?! She'll hear you!" his voice was low as possible, but the urgency in his voice tended to carry.
"Chrrrrissstoooopheeer!" Her voice getting nearer as she drew out his name.
Maricella just smiled and turned to the doorway, standing up, "I wonder, I wonder what will she do. What will she do if she finds another woman in the bath with you." It rang out slightly, in a sing song, playful sort of way as she headed for the door.
Desperation, heightened by the very real threat of being exposed as a pervert, managed to get him out of the bath tub so that he could grab her by the shoulder.
Sapphire only heard a loud crashing noise and Christopher’s cry of pain. It was immediate, fearing him hurt she rushed to open the door and found him laying face down on the tiled floor, dripping wet and naked.
“C-C-Chr-Christopher! Are you alright?!”
Lucky for her, he could only see his hind end. He groaned and managed a very weak, “Yeah… just slipped, I’ll be fine. Nothings broken, I don’t think.”
Nervousness at seeing him naked, she suddenly started to laugh. What else could she do? She laughed and turned her back on him, “J-Just get dressed!”
She left him as her laughing became more pronounced, then fade as the door closed and she ran off deeper into the house.
Christopher lay there rather sore and more than slightly humiliated. Marveling at the fact that Maricella had literally vanished into thin air.
Fifteen minutes later Christopher came out of the bad with a sore elbow, clothed and looking more than a bit dejected as he round the corner and headed to the kitchen only to find a Sapphire and Maricella having a secret laugh, which turned uproarious when he appeared.
If only looks could kill.
Maricella smiled at him and exhaled rather happily after her good hearty laugh, “Christopher, I’ve never felt so rested in my life.”
Her eyes shone brightly, her smile warm and welcoming and his sister seem to have a weight that had been lifted off her shoulders.
As long as the lioness was happy, what could a wolf do but be thankful.
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.
Act 1, Final Scene
A Branch Grafted
Smoke filled the air around him; he wasn’t sure what had happened. He could move, that’s all he could ascertain at the moment, though the ringing in his ears was making the task of focusing that much harder.
As he looked, the house that had been his home since childhood was in utter ruin, the whole front half of the building had been blown away. As moved to sit on his knees, he saw something moving in his direction.
It had the form of a woman, and the outer edges of the form wavered like heat off hot asphalt. Then her face came into view and he reacted, shock filled his veins, eyes wide with disbelief.
Three weeks had passed since Maricella and Christopher had taken the offer, they made good with playing the going to work game. She came to pick him up every morning and drove to the large office building that was their new home away from home.
Christopher found it strange to have to dress up so elegantly for the first few days, though the clothing were provided by PP&P, wearing a three piece suit, tie, cufflinks and a pricey watch seemed a bit extravagant, but he wasn’t going to argue. If Maricella could wear her business dress suit without complaint then he would just have man up.
Their work consisted mostly of what Christopher would consider occult research. The building that was owned by PP&P had a library that was five floors in height and he was assured by Theodore himself that this collection was only a fraction of the overall collection the Patrick’s Family owned.
“It’s enough to keep you two busy for a while in this realm anyway.” He had said and busy was exactly how Maricella and Christopher were kept.
Though their job was mostly research, the second half of his life was training. Nothing physical for the time being as he was told, but more the element of being aware and the ability to control his awareness. A fancy way of saying he needed to know he –had- a Sine to being with and the knowledge of how to activate it.
It was this piece of his day that wore on him tremendously, he never knew that such a power existed within him, but from what they were able to tell him he’d used it unconsciously several times during his life, mostly used to achieve the level of retention and that Lucid Dream he used so often to bring out his heightened state of calm.
It was only during this state that he was able to understand the form and function of his Sine. The level of integration with his mind was on a scale that even surprised Maricella, even more surprising was the fact that he could only control a very small percent of his overall Sine.
This seemed to frustrate everyone, including Theodore.
Every night, they would drive back home. Christopher would be exhausted, Maricella keeping her eyes on the road. They didn’t say much to each other during those times, but without fail as she turned off the engine to her small two door car, she would turn to look at him.
“It will come to you, Chrissy. I swear, it will come to you and when it does, it will be as easy as breathing, just keep working at figuring out the complexity of your Sine as only you can and when you do, it will become your best ally. You called me, remember that… a Wolf has never called a Lion.”
He would smile, as this statement varied from day to day, but his response was always the same, “Thank you; I’ll do my best tomorrow as well.”
She would smile at this, waiting for him to enter his home before starting up the car and heading to the place she called her own.
It was just another normal night; after three weeks of intensive training, he was returning home with a more upbeat outlook as his training was starting to pay off. He could use his Sine in a far more conscious and active manner. Not only that but he started to become aware of things that before would have eluded him.
He could feel the presence of animals and people all the way from the street; if he concentrated he could sense the presence of the neighbors in the houses around their own.
He had started practicing this technique upon Theodore’s request, to memorize the area, to know what was considered normal so that if anything ever was amiss, he would know about it immediately.
“So Christopher, how was work today? How’s that research coming along???”
Her angelic features almost gave her a devilish feel. His mother always enjoyed quizzing him on the aspects of his work; she had an unhealthy fascination with what sort of research he was doing at PP&P.
“It’s going well, mom… really, it’s not all that exciting that I need to talk about it every night.”
Sapphire of course, never far from making her own waves, “Yeah, but don’t you think it’s a little odd that you’re doing research relating to the occult? I mean, it’s a law firm right?”
That had been his first mistake.
“Listen, I don’t really know myself okay?”
Which was true, because he had no freaking clue why a law firm had no law books in it's extensive library, only material relating to occult styled referencing.
“It’s has something to do with how the firm handles special cases and we are being trialed to see if we are able to think objectively and at the same time think paradoxically.”
It wasn't really a lie; it was exactly what the research was for, in his own mind. That and he had learned much about the lexicon of the world he was living in which helped him understand his situation better.
Sapphire only hmmmm’d at him and Adara just kept a hawk like view over him, “You promise you’re not doing anything illegal?”
Christopher again sighed, “I promise. As far as I know it’s only researching what I labeled occult like material.”
His mother was about to say something, when something about the way she looked to the door gave Christopher pause, but she then smiled at him warmly, “Very well then. Maricella is with you all day so that makes me feel safer.”
Sapphire just nodded her agreement, but there seemed to be something off about his sister as well, ever since he had begun practicing his new technique he’d been picking up on some oddities coming from both is mother and sister.
“What’s wrong with you two tonight? You seem a slight bit on edge.”
Adara was about to say something when Christopher suddenly jumped to his feet, it rang in his mind like a siren, as he turned to look to the door and wall facing the yard, something was coming and coming in fast.
The look on his face brought both Adara and Sapphire to their feet as well and before he would even say anything, and before his world exploded around him, he hand just enough time to lift up his hand.
A power, so beautiful to make the heart sing of a poet. Embracing those meant to protect and destroyed those it meant to kill. So violent an outburst that it destroyed half a building.
"Amateur." A voice said.
"An amateur that stopped your synchronized attack, though." Theodore sat on a roof, watching as the time stopping shell barrier that made the sound of the explosion echo within it's cocoon like enclosure.
"You're playing both sides, Patrick. Why?"
Theodore looked up at the creature and smiled, "Because, we Patrick's have lost faith in your new order, Breaker of Houses."
A snort is heard and the creature vanishes, as two brightly lit orbs of power appear within the protection created by a Wolf. Theodore only smiles more as his laugh carries through the hive like cocoon.
She had extended her hand; the smoke and fire were stinging his eyes when another form came into view with a more petite frame. She also brimmed with power.
He took it, disbelief that the hand, he was holding belonged to that of his mother.
“Chrissy are you alright?!” She was looking over him in a panic, suddenly patting him around the shoulders and then moving both her hands to touch his head.
Christopher could only nod a bit dumbly, the ringing in his ears had lessened enough to the point that he could half way hear what she was saying, “Y-Yes, I believe so.”
“Tch… those bastards didn’t make it far before they vanished into a doorway. I did manage to kill a few before they were able to escape.”
Apparently satisfied that Christopher wasn’t badly damaged, she turned to look at Sapphire, “Which House?”
“SpiderHound, had it not been for Chrissy he would have been dead.”
Adara nodded to this and looked over at Christopher, “I know you have a lot of questions or will have a lot of questions, but please for right now I need you to sleep, okay?”
There must have been a look of panic or distrust in his eyes, but Adara only smiled, “I swear upon my life and the life of my daughter and those of the House of Hind, that you my grafted branch of Wolf will be safe.”
Tears suddenly welled up in Christopher’s eyes, he suddenly knew. He knew he was all alone in this world, those of Wolf were dead. He was the last, for he wasn’t even honored with the name of ‘house’ anymore, but the term of a single surviving member ‘branch’. At least that research made for something.
He leaned up and wept against her, as the darkness once again took him in.
Here ends Act 1
Tender, tenderly falling. Ashes upon ashes, something is calling.