I'm back. Super long break (if you can call about a year and a half that...), but I'm going to start writing this again. Promise.
Thanks to my beta, the infallible WyrdWolf. Thanks, Shane!
Chapter Two; Meeting Lilith (Thunder and Lightning)
Although I knew it would only cause me more pain and indecision, I had to see Eryk once more before I left with Shane. Who knew how long it would be before I saw him again?
By the time I arrived at his doorstep, I was a wreck. I had spent most of the trip alternately convincing myself that it a good idea to say goodbye and that I was making the biggest mistake of my life. It was when I worked myself into hysterics that I most wished that Eryk was still with me, in body and mind. He always knew what to do to help me.
Taking a deep breath and half-convincing myself that nothing bad would happen, I pushed the door open and tread the familiar path to Eryk's bedroom. He was there, as always, lying prone on the bed, cold and unmoving. With a tenderness I thought I had lost long ago, I smoothed the covers and brushed Eryk's over-long hair off his face. He was in desperate need of a haircut, but no one had bothered since - I cut the thought off. If I continued down that particular line of thought, there was no way I would be ready to leave with Shane.
Shaking my head, I gripped Eryk's hand and whispered gently into his ear, "Goodbye, my love. We will meet again and you will be well. This I promise."
Blinking back the sudden surge of tears, I squeezed Eryk's hand and let it fall back to the covers. As I reached the doorway, I turned back to see his face, pale and smooth as in sleep, and couldn't choke back my sobs.
Walking out the door, biting my fist to keep from disturbing the silence, I felt like nothing would ever be the same, like I would never see Eryk again. The feeling came with such hot, sharp clarity that my very world felt like it was collapsing.
And the worst part was that I believed it was true.
When I was able to calm myself enough to think straight, I managed to gather a few essential items in a pack and make my way back to the ill-fated clearing. Unsurprisingly, Shane was waiting for me there. What was surprising, though, was the expression on his face. He looked worried and kept glancing up at the sky and then peering through the trees, like he expected someone to appear any moment.
What really put me off guard was that he was looking for me. Nobody, not even Eryk in the heat of our relationship, had ever looked so worried about me. I was content to bask in the warm feeling that spread through me at the realization that he cared until I remembered exactly who it was that was evoking these feelings. Then I just felt deeply ashamed and more than a little mad at myself, the angry blush creeping up my cheeks.
Before I could get my emotions back under control, Shane's eyes lit on me. His expression was that of elated surprise, but only momentarily before his face cleared. It hurt a little to see him put the mask back on.
I shook my head and stepped through the trees, coming to a stop a few feet in front of the fallen tree on which Shane had been sitting. We were still for a moment, Shane stuck in the awkward half-standing position he had entered when he had seen me among the trees. Then a twig snapped somewhere off in the distance and our unmoving silence was broken.
Shane rose the rest of the way to standing and turned away from me, his voice tight. "I wasn't sure you were coming."
I forced myself to stop fidgeting, even though he couldn't see my nervous movements, and I replied, "There was... something I needed to attend to. Before we left. I don't know how long you plan to have me away from Lakoning, so I wanted to settle my business before - before it was too late." I hated myself for the slight stutter at the end of my answer and hoped Shane hadn't noticed.
Fortunately for me, he either didn't notice or was too much of a gentleman to say anything. I had a sneaking suspicion it was the latter.
"Come on," he said over his shoulder, waving vaguely in a direction ahead of us. "We have a long way to go and I'd like to get somewhere before sundown."
Something in his voice told me that there was the very real danger of meeting with unsavory persons (or worse, my mind whispered) while in the Forest of the Night. I ran to catch up, not wanting to be left behind even for a moment in this strange place.
We had been traveling for a few hours and I was really starting to regret that I hadn't eaten anything before meeting with Shane. Between our several run-ins, my time with Eryk, and the short stay with Tucker, there hadn't been any time for me to even think about eating. Luckily, my hunger made itself known before I collapsed in the middle of a strange wood with only Shane to protect me from the beasts that made their home there.
Maybe it's a little melodramatic, but I was hungry. We finally stopped for a short break near a small brook. To my disgust, it was actually bubbling. At that point, I had been walking through more forest than I had ever seen in my life, all the while carrying a sack filled with my personal effects. And I hadn't eaten. I was in no mood for anything cutesy or storybook romantic. Bubbling brooks certainly fit both.
Despite my immediate hatred for the brook, it did provide a source of fresh water, which I drank down hungrily. I only realized how ridiculous I looked, dripping water and glaring periodically at a small river, when I heard Shane's muffled chuckles. Blushing with embarrassment and a fair amount of pent-up anger, I sent him a glare and punched his shoulder, though not gently.
He winced and glanced at me through his dark lashes, his hypnotic eyes drawing me in. "Ow."
I flashed him a grin that I'm sure came more evil than not and practically skipped over to a mostly dry rock. After I was as comfortable as I was going to get, I started sorting through my pack, only to discover that I hadn't actually brought any food. A soft noise of disbelief escaped me. How had I not brought food?
Luckily, it seemed Shane had enough for the two of us and he assured me that there were edible plants and berries throughout the forest. And he knew what they looked like.
We sat next to each other on the rock, eating quietly, and I tried to ignore the weightless feeling that was rising in my lungs from being in close proximity to such a gorgeous man. It was sad, really, how many times I had to remind myself that I loved Eryk in those minutes.
Eventually, we continued on, my mood much better after having eaten something, though the little joyous skips in my heartbeat whenever Shane glanced over his shoulder at me felt like the worst kind of betrayal. When we stopped again, it was too dark for me to see more than Shane's back as he marched on ahead of me. He seemed to realize that I couldn't see as well as he could in dark, especially the dark of the Forest of the Night.
"Sorry; I forget these things... I haven't left the forest in a while..." he explained, a sheepish grin crossing his face. Infuriatingly, I found the grin to be delightfully suited to his face.
Mad at myself for continually betraying Eryk and my own heart, I stomped over to the edge of the clearing and started getting my blankets out. Unfortunately, my heart was convinced it wanted to test the new waters and that it was alright because Eryk would never find out and it wasn't like it meant anything, anyway. A disgusted sigh escaped my lips and I was so distracted, I almost went to sleep without first eating a light dinner. It was only Shane's timely arrival with a small bowl of mixed forest berries and some cornmeal that prevented me from doing just that.
He sent me another of those sheepish grins and, against my better sense, I gave him a small, rather tight-lipped smile in return. "Couldn't let you go hungry again, could I?" he offered as an explanation.
I was in no place to refuse, so I took the bowl and carefully ate a few bites of his concoction. It was actually quite delicious. I'm not sure why it surprised me, but it did. Perhaps it just seemed unrealistic that Shane had thought ahead to pack food for me, even going so far as to plan to harvest the bounty of the forest for the both of us. If I wasn't so flattered, I'd be furious at his presumptuous attitude.
Shane tried to hold awkward conversation with me for a while, but fell silent when I gave no sign of ever actually participating in the sadly one-sided talk. It wasn't that I didn't care what he was saying, I was just trying to keep my suddenly raging emotions under control. By the time he was rising to make a fire for warmth during the cold night, I was just about ready to give up and say that I couldn't take it anymore and just go back to Lakoning where I knew I would be relatively safe from mysterious men who threw my entire world into chaos.
None of that happened, though, because it was finally an appropriate hour that I could go to sleep, or at least pretend to sleep, and Shane would have no reason to be offended. Not that I cared about offending him, personally. It was just good manners. Needless to say, I was immensely relieved when I bundled myself up in the blankets and threw a half-hearted goodnight towards Shane.
The last thing I heard before I was taken off into the warm oblivion of sleep was the scrit-scratch of writing and the gentle hum of power coming off of Shane.
She said yes.
I know I'm making it seem like something grand, but it's really not. We're going to see the Night. When I requested to go and get the heir's plaything, it was simply because I wanted to get out. But now that I'm here... well, I'm glad it's me and not Lilith or Fletcher. Goddess, I'm glad it's not Fletch. He'd've eaten her alive.
It's horrible, but I care. I know we're not supposed to. Technically, we aren't even supposed to interact with the mortals. But when the Night wants something... Goddess help whoever stands in her way. I suppose that's the only reason I don't do away with this pretense and run away with her myself.
Tonight, I got a few of the non-poisonous berries and put them on the extra bland cornmeal. I only mention it because Xalvadora seemed surprised. Does she doubt that I can survive in the forest? Here I sigh, because my thoughts are a jumble and I can't make heads or tails of anything at the moment. Fine lot of help I'll be if anything happens. I need to focus on the task at hand... despite the fact that I am a friend of the forest, there are those that would see me dead or worse. And I do not want to imagine what they would do a pretty girl like Xalvadora...
But it's not like anything will happen between us. Not only does she have someone - the heir nonetheless! - but she doesn't seem interested in the slightest with me. Instead of a friendly conversation, I got silence and a somewhat tortured expression on her face. I would be insulted if I weren't in despair about so much already.
Perhaps it would have been best for Lilith to be here... at least she would be able to get our charge back safely and without all this internal conflict. She always said I felt far too much to be a normal companion to the gods... I'm starting to think she's right. For just one day without the burdens of morality... what wouldn't I give?
The next morning, I awoke to the unique sensation of being completely alone. It was a feeling I had gotten used to after Eryk's withdraw into himself, but it felt wrong to me. I soon realized why: Shane wasn't there. There wasn't a lot I could do; he was more familiar with the wood than I and my legs were still fast asleep. I was stuck for a while, or at least until the pins and needles signified I had regained feeling in my lower body.
Several minutes later, as I cursed and tried to walk off the stiffness I had obtained from a night sleeping on the ground, I heard something rather curious. It was like a bird, but less shrill and closer than a bird would get, what with my not-so-silent cursing and unbending attempts at moving. I managed to turn around with little difficulty and was faced with the sight of a woman grinning at me from her perch up on a branch.
Curiouser and curiouser, I thought.
I was debating whether or not it would be alright for me to go closer to the tree and try to talk to the strange woman or if it was best to back away slowly and make a run for it when the decision was taken out of my hands. At the same time Shane returned from Goddess-knows-where, the woman jumped out of her tree and landed directly in front of me. I gasped and took a step backward.
She was wearing a short dress with knee-length shorts, but that wasn't what was unusual about her. No, what was really shocking was of what her clothes appeared to be made. The dress was like falling rain, although it never puddled at the bottom edge or dripped off onto the ground, while her shorts seemed to be constantly swirling clouds. There was nothing I could do but stare at her very strange attire and wonder if I had eaten something hallucinogenic the night before.
Shane cursed under his breath and stepped up next me, pushing the strange woman off to the side. "What is wrong with you?"
The woman shrugged. "She's not much, is she? How odd that the heir would want to consort with her... even knowing she's not the one."
I had not noticed before because of her clothing, but the woman was also very beautiful. She had a striking shock of deep red hair framing her face and emphasizing her stormy grey eyes. I could almost swear to seeing a thunderhead roll through her gaze, but it was gone in an instant and I was left blinking stupidly, trying to comprehend their conversation.
My companion sighed and rubbed at his forehead. "Why are you here, Lilith? I'm perfectly capable of bringing her to the Night. You know that; you're the one that recommended I do this!"
"Something I'm starting to regret now, I assure you," she said carelessly, twirling a bit of her hair. A grin that could be easily mistaken for evil spread across her face. She looked back at me for a moment, then leaned in close to Shane and said, "I've been missing you... why don't you let me come with you? It can't be more hassle than you're going through now," and she kissed him. I was barely able to hold back the cry that threatened to escape, despite the stone that seemed lodged in my throat.
She pulled back almost immediately, but there was no hiding either of their expressions. The woman, Lilith, had a barely suppressed smirk that was directed more at me than at him, while Shane was wearing a fairly unreadable frown. I'm sure none of my own shock or, much as it pains me to admit, jealousy was hidden from my face, which probably explained why the woman was still smirking at me.
"Lily," Shane began with utter sweetness, belayed only by the tight set of his features. "Get out." The sudden harshness made me flinch, and he wasn't even directing it towards me. The woman, however, reacted with much of the same poison that had been in Shane's voice.
The woman pushed him up against the tree she had been sitting in moments ago and hissed into his ear, "Don't. Call. Me. Lily." Lightning flared from her fingertips as she held Shane there for another second, then dropped him, sighing with mixed disgust and anger.
I know I was scared out of my skin - had that been electricity flowing out of her fingers? - but Shane seemed to take it all in stride. It was another thing I could admire about him, not that I admired him or anything...
"If you're done with the light show..." He let his voice trail off.
The woman hissed at him threateningly, but backed away and nodded reluctantly. It seemed like whatever had just happened was over, for which I was extremely grateful. Not only had I not understood their exchange, but the falling out feeling in my stomach indicated that they had been talking about me.
Shane moved back to my side, standing protectively close to me. He spoke to me while keeping his gaze fixed on the strange woman. "This is Lilith. She'll be traveling with us for a while. Apparently, I am not trusted to complete tasks set to me on my own." He turned to face me and said quietly, "Actually, she's here because she's lonely and is just using this as an excuse to get away from the twins."
I didn't think to ask who the twins were or why Lilith was lonely; it was fairly intoxicating to just be so close to Shane. It's a shame you already have Eryk, the sly voice at the back of my head whispered. That stopped my train of thought immediately and the floaty feeling was instantly replaced by one of heavy guilt and betrayal.
Drawing as little attention to myself as possible, I slipped away from Shane and skirted around Lilith to arrange my things so everything would fit back into my pack. I didn't turn around once, afraid of what I might see Shane and Lilith doing. Jealousy was a fearsome emotion, but it was all mine and I planned to keep it close to my heart.
How cute. Our little Shane has grown up and found himself a girl to chase. And the heir's toy, nonetheless! I'd be proud of him if I weren't so pissed that he's going against me now. Who does he think he is? There's no way he could get away with whatever it is that he's trying to accomplish. None can challenge the power of the gods. I don't know why he tries.
Although, there is something about the girl... some hidden power. I so want to cultivate it, but now that she's drawn the attention of the Night, there's nothing I can do. Perhaps Shane knows something I don't...
I think it's time we had a talk, Shane and I.