NOCTIS - Chapter 19

Present Day…

Because Evan only had the basic art class, rather than the full complement of art courses that I was taking alongside the requirements for my biology minor, the hour and a half was peaceful and uneventful. After half an hour of demonstrations performed by professor Paxton, I was able to just sit and work quietly, free from the distractions of nosy outsiders.

Tabidius was pretty much exhausted. After a brief spell of humidity it had begun raining hard, and the lightning wasn't far off. Before class I had pushed Evan's table against mine and made the wraith sit there, knowing that he would be too tired to do anything silly or distracting. While I worked on my charcoal project, he rested his head on folded arms atop the raised table, watching through half-lidded eyes.

"How much longer?" he murmured sleepily.

"Thirty minutes or so," I whispered, keeping my voice below the ambient chatter in the room. "You'll be okay, right?"

His eyes smiled, though his mouth was hidden behind his arms. "You are very pretty when you are concentrating on your art."

Fortunately, I had my tabletop propped up higher than my head, because I turned to give him a disturbed stare. "Tabidius. Sleep. You're too weird when you're tired."

"So you prefer menace over kindness?"

"No, it's just unusual to see you like this."

"Then you love me regardless of my behavioral diversity?"

"Well, yes. Now sleep before my professor comes over and decides I've gone the way of Van Gogh. We can chitchat to your heart's content when we go home, but not here in class, okay?" I gave him a pleading look, and he sighed, turning away.

"Very well. I am rather..."

He went out like a power grid, and I smiled despite myself. He was too quirky.

Without his incessant mutterings, it was easier to concentrate on my project, and it wasn't until class ended that I began to wind down. The professor trusted me, so he said goodbye and left me alone for his lunch break, as usual.

Tabidius was still sleeping peacefully, breathing softly like an exhausted kitten, and I smiled a little as I put my charcoal and other paraphernalia away then set the drawing in a protective sheath. Once everything was clean and properly stored, and once I managed to get the tricky drawing table to close down, I finally turned to the task of waking him.

"Hey, sleepyhead," I whispered, keeping a lookout to make sure nobody walked in and saw me talking to my invisible friend. "Tabidius, we can leave now." I prodded him and he stirred, turning his head to face me in his sleep and let out a soft sigh through those delicious, inviting lips.

He was so...sweet. Sometimes I wondered what it would be like to have him like this all the time—manageable and sweet.

Fascinated, I crouched to his eye-level and stared at him over the edge of the table for several long minutes, wondering whether or not wraiths could dream. He always slept so peacefully, as if nothing could ever go wrong in his dream world. After a while, though, I decided that I should probably wake him. No matter how pleasant the dream, it would be suspicious if I stuck around too long.

An idea popped into my head, and I stifled a snicker before leaning over his ear and whispering, "I'm going to take advantage of you if you don't wake up."

Not even a twitch.

I frowned, then slipped my fingers into his tousled hair and turned to his lips. Well, I had warned him. Carefully, I drew down and brushed my lips lightly against his, before sliding my tongue into his open mouth and kissing him slowly.

In an instant, an arm snaked around my waist and a hand slipped around my neck, pulling me tight against him as he sat up and returned the kiss with near-feverish hunger. Startled, I hooked both arms behind his neck, and the painful burst of adrenal fear flashed through my body, heightening my senses as his dulcet tongue captured mine.

I held him tightly, and he easily lifted me up to straddle his lap, pressed hard against his hips. It was excruciating to have him so close, to know that he wanted me yet refused to cross that thin barrier of cloth.

"Please," I begged, pulling away and holding his face in my hands to give him a desperate look. "Please, Tabidius."

He made an impatient, growling noise in the back of his throat. "Impossible," he breathed. "I shall not risk your safety simply because your hormones are running amok. Do not push me, little monster. I am too tired to deal with it right now."

"Damn it all!" Frustrated and disappointed with yet another failed attempt, I let go of him to slide back to my feet, slinging my bag over my shoulder and nodding to the door. "Let's go home. I need to cool off."


My name again—I had upset him. I shook my head. "Sorry. I'm just getting ahead of myself. Come on, we can sleep on the couch until the storm passes."

He frowned, letting out a long breath, then brushed his hair into order. "All right. I am too tired to argue."

Just before leaving the building, I dug out the umbrella and opened it under the cantilever, holding it high enough for both of us to walk comfortably together. The rain was coming down harder with each passing minute, and the rumble of thunder vibrated into my bones through the umbrella's canopy.

He wasn't talking, just staring blankly ahead with his hands in his coat pockets—either thinking or just too drained to maintain a proper conversation. That was just as well. I didn't feel like breaking the sound of the rain. My head was silent, the voices too faint to hear past the falling water, and I resigned myself to a sort of agitated state of contemplation while I had the opportunity.

I let Tabidius hold the umbrella as I fished out the house key. He watched with limited interest, clearly in want of something soft to lie on until the storm had passed. Part of me wanted to stay annoyed at him, but seeing his listless stare killed that feeling in an instant. What remained was a simple desire to make him comfortable.

Once inside, I took off my shoes and set the umbrella to dry in the front entrance, then prodded him into the living room before hurrying upstairs to put my things away and change into something more sleep-friendly. I noticed that Mom's keys were missing, and assumed that she was probably out shopping. Dinner would be easy enough to handle, and I could have it ready for her by the time she got home.

When I returned to the living room in my baby blue flannel pajama pants and a clean shirt, Tabidius was already sitting on the couch with his bare feet up on the cushions, watching a sitcom on mute and resting his chin on his folded arms.

"Odd. You should already be asleep," I commented, sitting beside him and shutting the TV off. I looked up at him in the muted gray light from the window, and after a moment he met my eyes and slid his arm around my shoulders.

"I did not have my pillow," he murmured softly, bowing his head to kiss me sweetly, then pulling away before I could try and distract him further.

He gave me a look, and, getting the hint, I smiled slightly and sat back against the cushions. Mom's outings tended to last well into the evening, so I had a little bit of time before dinner had to be ready. The moment I was comfortable, he settled on top of me with his arms around my waist and his cheek against my breasts. "It feels better if I touch you," he sighed in contentment.

My heart gave a twinge, and I brushed my fingers through his hair, whispering quietly, "Pleasant dreams, Tabidius."

"Perhaps." He nuzzled his cheek against me, then slipped under yet again.

By the time the storm had passed, it was already six in the evening, and Tabidius woke me up to remind me to eat. He was pretty much back to normal, but was still too drowsy to be scary. While I meandered around the kitchen preparing a salad and pork chops, he sat on the counter and watched passively.

"From the smell, I take it that you are a proficient cook?" he inquired, leaning over the stove and sniffing the main dish. "At least, I do not believe that I have ever heard your mother complain."

"Mom was always busy, you know. I was cooking my own food at age nine, and cooking for two at twelve. She taught me a lot when she could." I turned the meat over and poured a mixture of water, corn starch, lemon juice, and soy sauce over everything to thicken. "It's too bad you can't eat it."

He gave me one of those looks. "You are more of a prize than your cooking could ever be. I have the better of the two."

"You give me too much credit," I sighed. "Scoot a bit, please. I need to prepare the dressing."

He faded out of sight, and I smirked when he reappeared with his feet on the floor at the end of the peninsula. "Have you enough space now?" he asked.

"More than enough, showoff," I chuckled, setting out the dressing dispenser and the various ingredients I would need. "Are you still groggy?"

He shrugged and leaned an elbow on the counter top to rest his head in a palm. "The storm has passed us, but there is still lightning in the air nearby. That is enough to steal some of my energy."

His garnet eyes watched in curiosity as I poured the Italian dressing components into the container and shook it hard. "I can tell," I admitted. "You're pretty docile when you're tired—harmless, even."

"Does that make me seem weak?" he murmured almost teasingly.

I shook my head and set the dispenser down. All I had left to wait for were the pork chops, which I preferred to slow-cook on low. "I like it. That might sound kind of weird, though. Plus, my head is quieter with you around."

That seemed to interest him. "The voices fear me even when I am 'docile' and 'harmless,' do they?"

"You could banish them on a whim, Tabidius," I replied, walking around the counter and taking hold of his arm. "Come on. Let's go sit down. The food won't be done for a little bit."

"But would you not be upset with me if I did that?" He followed along obediently, and we curled up together on the couch to watch TV and talk.

"Yeah, but I can't argue with you about it. You do what you want to do regardless of what I say, don't you?" I rested my cheek on his shoulder, and he turned to give me a chiding frown.

"Little monster, I would never take away that which eases the burden of your past. You have the voices because you need them. Though I often follow my own ideas of how to handle things, I do not wish to hurt you."

"I know. They're just being careful." I stroked his jaw with a fingertip, and he took my hand in his to kiss my knuckles softly.

"I must feed soon, little monster, after the storm is far enough away," he murmured.

"How long will you be gone?"

"A few hours. You know my local haunts, if you miss me." He smirked and I laughed in surprise.

"Wow, was that an ego? I didn't know you had one of those."

"It is a recent development."

I grinned and kissed his cheek. "I love this new you. You used to be like an animal, but now you're almost human. Where do wraiths come from, anyway? Are you all like that?"

"We are animals by intrinsic nature, true. By comparison, however, I am one of the least indicative of my kind." His lips pursed in thought, and he inclined his head to mine as he said quietly, "There are several theories as to our origin, most of which are extensions of old mythology. Some pertain to Egyptian tales, others to ancient superstitions derived from pagan beliefs. However, those are the least likely explanations..."

"Which one do you believe?"

He smiled. "You value my opinion over all others, do you?"

"Well, yeah." I shrugged and made an ambiguous gesture. "You're the only one I've ever met, and I think our meeting was one chance in a billion. It's only natural that I'd use you as my point of reference."

"Hmm. That is a sensible approach, but you must take into account that I am not human, and that you know nothing of the standard." Frowning, he set the TV on mute. "Seeing as how I am in a good mood, I shall explain."

"Finally. Took you three years."

He smirked down at me, brushing a hand against my hair and replying, "You know my personality. I do not enjoy being wrong, therefore it was necessary to first understand your allure without giving away too much. I ended up oddly infatuated—a first among my people as far as I can tell."

"I know. I'm just teasing. It's a mutual infatuation."

"Of course."

"So about that theory of origin...?"

Lightning crashed somewhere nearby, and an irritated crease appeared between his brows. "Exhausting weather, this is." His eyes closed briefly, then opened with some visible effort. "Anyway, my preferred theory, and the one most easily accepted by the majority, is the theory that we were once human, long, long ago.

"Obviously, we take human shape and partake of human emotions, but what sets us apart is our prowess in the manipulation of energy and matter. The only other thing I know of which can manipulate such an elusive power with ease is the soul of a human being, though it must be noted that human souls do not act upon conscious thought."

"Before, you said you weren't a ghost," I reminded him.

He shook his head. "I am not a ghost. According to my preferred theory, we are the result of abnormalities in the human mind. Because of these abnormalities, the flesh becomes redundant, and the end result is a bodiless entity. An astral projection with more luxuries, if you will. I do not believe this to be a conscious decision, but an anomaly which cannot be controlled."

"Wait, then how am I touching you?" I sat up and kissed his temple. "See? Very solid."

He smiled and hooked his hand behind my neck, turning to kiss me sweetly. "Indeed. I would not be capable of touching you without a body of my own to bridge that gap.

"However, thanks to Einstein, we now know that matter and energy are interchangeable." He settled back, absentmindedly rubbing circles behind my ear. "Although our natural state is ethereal, we are likely able to use the energy of the earth to maintain substance. That is the reason behind our weakness during a thunderstorm, I suspect. We feed on emotional energy as a supplement, and that allows us more power than the earth alone can provide.

"We are born without recollection of any previous existence, and younger wraiths are often incapable of taking on solid form—or even recalling how they came to be. This suggests that we gain power through age and experience—the longer we live, the stronger we become. Human emotions are abundant, but the most palatable are intensely negative or carnal emotions—hate, fear, lust, et cetera."

I nodded thoughtfully. "So you take human forms because that is what feels most familiar, and you live by instinct because the only emotions you can feel are negative and visceral ones...but how do you propagate?"

"We cannot be created by force. We just appear every few hundred years, invisible observers at first, then slowly gaining strength enough to maintain bodies and conscious thoughts. A wraith's purpose is basically to travel and watch, surviving only because instinct dictates thus."

"So you don't remember being human at some point?"

"No, and as I said earlier, this theory is just that—a theory. I have witnessed neither my own creation, nor the creation of another of my kind. We are rather solitary. So solitary, in fact, that though I have been this way for an incomprehensible length of time, I only discovered our archives a few hundred years ago."

"What's your first memory, then?"

The question made him smirk, but he didn't answer right away. He just looked at me as though it were an inside joke.

It kind of annoyed me to be left out of the loop. "Tabidius? Well?"

He chuckled, then relented, "Though I am probably much, much older, my first conscious memory is of a wealthy Patrician's home in Ancient Rome. I only remember suddenly being in his he made love to his mistress."

I gawked in surprise. "Yikes. I've never even seen porn...unless you count high school." I grimaced in embarrassment. High school was like a crash course in every aspect of human existence, a deluge of information to weed out the weak links in society. I was beyond ecstatic to have escaped.

"A rather unique first memory, I must admit," he murmured, nuzzling my throat and nibbling my ear gently. "But I could feel that energy, like heat with the movement of water. It taught me my first discernible emotion: lust."

"I think I know why you're the first wraith ever to fall in love," I breathed, my skin going tight all over as my muscles tensed. "Have you ever tried it before? Sex, I mean."

He laughed against my skin, crooning softly in my ear, "I have, though it was a little bit different from the definition that you would normally give the act. You forget that until I met you, humans could only see me when I fed, and what they did see was my true form. However, I could trigger the same responses in a human, and tap into their thoughts and emotions just enough to feel it myself. It is a marvelous way to feed. I fully intend to show you when the time comes, especially now that I have a body for you to enjoy."

"I want it now," I complained, gripping his hair and pulling him up to taste him.

"You know my reasons, little monster," he whispered against my lips, before kissing me deeply and laying me back on the cushions.

My heart picked up its pace as I stroked his face and neck, and his bare chest when his shirt suddenly vanished for me. " something, anything," I begged.

"That can be arranged." He kissed me again, melting me from the inside out, before he suddenly reached a hand down between my waistband and my skin and caressed my inner thigh. "You are such a hungry little creature...though I would not mind if you became addicted to sex alongside the fear."

"Ah!" His fingers knew exactly what I needed, sliding firmly between my thighs and ripping a helpless moan from my lungs. "Yes...please..." I hissed, staring desperately up into his eyes as I gripped his shoulders tightly and lifted my hips to meet his hand. It was such a heady pleasure, to have his cold hands fill me with glorious heat.

"Found it," he sighed at my temple.

My whole body went rigid as he massaged that special spot, his fingers sliding easily against my slick body. My belly was a knot of pleasure and hunger, and the sensation only grew stronger the longer his fingertips stroked.

"Tabidius..." I breathed, hooking one arm around his neck to drink his flavor while the opposite hand guided his fingers to where I needed them to go.

He reached under my shirt and gripped a breast, pinching my nipple between his finger and thumb. "Patience, little monster. Relax and let your body feel."

I bit my lip and pressed my forehead to his, panting hard and taking his advice. With effort, I managed to slacken my tight muscles. Every stroke of his fingers made my insides twitch in surprise and pleasure, made my breath hitch in my throat, only to be let out as a soft moan.

"I love you." I smiled up at him when he smirked and kissed my forehead.

"Though it would be more enjoyable to feel myself inside of you, I find plenty of enjoyment in this," he chuckled.

His words made my muscles tighten, and a powerful shock snapped up my backbone to the top of my head. I moaned breathlessly, loving everything about him.

"Come, Hydra, my little monster," he whispered intimately against my lips.

That simply, flat-out did it for me, and my back bowed as the orgasm hit me like a freight train. A shrill cry burst out of my throat, and turned into a series of breathless whimpers when he continued to massage that most sensitive spot. Tremors rattled my teeth as though I were freezing cold, but instead I was unbelievably hot.

"That expression on your face is fascinating," my wraith complimented, nipping my lips as he kissed me with more passion than I could handle.

I hit climax again so suddenly that I bit his tongue, but he didn't seem to mind, swallowing my cries as if they were his sustenance. The pulse of ecstasy stole the air from my lungs, wracking my body with beautiful shivers, so powerful that I couldn't even manage a whimper.

"Breathe, little monster," he murmured in my ear, removing his hands and sliding them around my waist as he kissed my forehead. "I shall not have you suffocating as a result of my handiwork."

It was difficult, but I managed to catch my breath, and when the oxygen hit my system it helped my tight muscles relax. "Amazing," I gasped. "It gets better and better each time you do that."

"At least now you are more than willing to accept my touch," he replied softly. "Hopefully, this will help our wedding night to be more pleasurable for you."

I shook my head, struggling to regain composure and only barely managing to speak. "It's pleasure no matter what. It's pleasure just to have you hold me like this."

A smile played across his lips. "You are even sweeter than I, little monster." He let me go and knelt over me, taking my hand and pulling me with him. "Let us make you more comfortable, shall we?"

With his help, I managed to sit up, and he arranged me in his lap with my legs stretched along the length of the couch and his arms around my waist. Sighing in satisfaction, I leaned my head to his shoulder and closed my eyes.

"I wonder if it'll always be like this," I mused aloud. "It feels too good to seem real."

"For you, it will always be like this," he murmured. "For me, it will end when you pass on."

Those words made me sad for his sake. "Tabidius...are you sure you want someone who will die someday?"

"You are the one I want. My decision was not based on lifespan, but chemistry, if you will. I doubt that another human, one who has not seen or felt the life you have lived, would be able to accept me so completely the way you do. Also, you will live much longer than the average human, and your body shall never appear older than that of a woman in her late twenties—aside from gray hair, of course. The Lusus shall make certain of that. It prefers youthful hosts who can continue their work until they die naturally."

"I know, but still..." I frowned a little, wondering how to word what I wanted to say. "Wouldn't you be happier if you were with someone more permanent, like you?"

"Only if that someone were you," he responded promptly. "It has taken this long already for me to encounter you. Besides, I have already explained that I intend to keep watch over your soul. If you are reborn in a different body, I shall make certain that we are together again. It should keep things interesting, especially since you will have known me from a much younger age. You may even retain some familiarity with our physical relationship, which should help you get past your human instinct to fear me."

I smiled at that thought. "I'd like that, but my reincarnation might be a lot more socially acceptable. You may have to keep the boys away."

"Hmph. Child's play," he muttered darkly. "Any fool who thinks he can touch my little monster is in for a rude awakening."

"Yours, huh?" I chuckled. "I really do love you. I think that will help you out."

"You are mine forever, then." With a content sigh, he nuzzled my temple and kissed my cheek softly. "You may want to check on your meal. Do not think I shall allow you to get away with skipping dinner."

An uncharacteristic giggle escaped me before I could stop it, and when he gave me a quizzical look, I said with a faint blush, "Er, you're going to have to help me walk to the kitchen. I can barely feel my legs."

He blinked. "Goodness, your body may not be able to handle intercourse if this trifle can render you so helpless."

"It's not a trifle!" I defended, still blushing. "It means a lot to me..."

"I did not mean to trivialize our intimacy—I simply mean to imply that I know how much more strongly the female body can respond to penetration than what we have been doing, which basically amounts to mere foreplay."

"Okay, just help me get to the kitchen!" I said quickly, too embarrassed to argue.

He shook his head, obviously confused with my reaction, and in the end he simply helped me to my feet. "You need not be embarrassed," he commented, letting me lean on him as I forced my weakened legs to move towards the kitchen. "I would prefer it if we were open with each other. That is why I have told you so much about myself in such a short time span. It is easier for you to trust me if you know what to expect, is it not?"

I frowned and paused in my steps, but then my knees began shaking, and I decided not to tempt fate. "I trust you. I've trusted you completely since the day you saved me from those guys, actually."

"It would be best if you did not remind me of that." His arm tightened protectively around me. "And to think how most see me as the monster. Humans are the only creatures on this Earth capable of such atrocities against their own species."

I nodded as we entered the kitchen. "I share your sentiments, but I'm human, too, remember? You seem to like me a lot."

"From my instinctive behavior where you are concerned, it would seem that I care for you more than even I can understand," he sighed, standing behind me with his arms around my middle, in case I tried fall while I tended to my dinner. "Fragile little thing though you are, you invoke such powerful responses in me."

"Likewise," I replied as I lifted the pan lid and turned the pork chops over again. "Though, I don't think the fragile bit really applies to you. Considering what I've seen, I'm pretty sure you could hold your own in the jungle of life."

"I could, indeed." He rested his chin on top of my head. "I believe I may happen to adore you, little monster. All the more reason to use my strengths to protect you from my world."

I set the lid back on and turned the gas down to let it simmer for a little longer. "Let's go sit back down. My legs aren't doing what they're supposed to right now."

"I see...put your arm around my neck." He ducked his head and I complied, and he lifted me up, bridal-style. "This way I can be certain that you will not sprain an ankle."

"Fragile little thing that I am," I murmured, nuzzling his temple as he carried me back into the darkened living room. I cuddled against him once more on the sofa, and he watched me in curiosity, obviously sensing that I was thinking about something.

"Hey, Tabidius..."


I met his eyes, and they were black in the light of the television. "Is your world really that scary?"

He considered for a bit, then replied candidly, "Most of the others are so weak that that they are not even conscious of their existence, but there are a few dozen who are as I am—powerful enough to hold form and step through the dimensional curtains. The weak ones are fairly tame—no more than a shiver down the spine—but there are some even higher in the rankings than I, and still others from planes much different from Mundus."

"Well, I know your strengths well enough, so what about the higher ones?"

"They are often mistaken for demonic possession." He gave me a sober look. "Some of us are powerful enough to steal the soul straight from your body while you are still alive. They are the ones from whom I wish to protect you. They enjoy a challenge, and a human under another wraith's protection...there is only one, Hydra. You are the crown jewel upon which falls every thief's darkest avarice. That is the reason why I am so adamant about our joining taking place on the equinox."

"That's a pretty good reason to wait," I muttered, slightly winded at the thought of something strong enough to steal my soul. It seemed like a silly notion concocted by conspiracy theorists. "So you can take souls from the dead only?"

"Correct, but I prefer not to use souls. My tastes tend towards fear, mostly, though lust and hate are satisfying, as well. Souls are bitter and heavy, whereas emotions are much lighter and more satisfying."

"I must be a feast," I murmured, laughing dryly.

Tabidius shook his head. "I do not feed on you when I can help it. Your emotions are too precious—too essential in your personality—and, logic aside, I care too much about you to make you weak for my sake."

Smiling, I lifted a hand and cupped his cheek against my palm. "You're too sweet, boss monster."

"It is a sweetness which must take me from you every so often if I wish to maintain my physical presence," he sighed. "It may be shifted slightly out of the human realm of visibility, but my body is as solid as yours right now. I enjoy touching you, so obtaining energy is a necessary thing."

"I know." I gave his cheek a gentle pat, then curled up against him and sighed tiredly. "It's a nice feeling, this exhaustion. It's like everything is all right."

"Everything is all right at the moment. I just want to be careful until our wedding night. I cannot let my guard down."

"You should probably go find that energy, then. I'll be safe while you're gone. I promise."

He chuckled and brought his lips to my ear, growling softly, "Safer than you are with me here, you mean?"

A shiver of fear dripped down my backbone, and I responded with gasp, "Maybe..."

"Well, then I suppose I should do as I am told, should I not?" His deep, airy voice invoked such an exquisite combination of fear and arousal in me.

"I'm not ordering you..." I muttered. "I just hope you'll return soon enough to go to the Tullianum with me."

"In that case, I should leave immediately." He smirked, then disappeared, like photograph development in reverse.

Alone again, I sighed, "Dinnertime, I guess."

Just as I was about to get up, however, something grabbed me from behind, and I yelped in surprise, only to have a hand clamped over my mouth.

"I forgot something," Tabidius whispered.

Hearing his voice, I relaxed immediately, and he withdrew his hand. "Don't scare me like...!"

Before I knew it, he turned my head and brought our lips together in a tender kiss, stealing the words from my tongue and melting the adrenaline from my veins. His honey flavor filled my senses to the brim, and I groaned softly, caressing his cheek with my fingertips.

"This time, I shall not vanish," he whispered when he drew away, his fingers in my hair to pull me into his cold, gentle embrace. "My Hydra, my little monster..."

I stared up at him and said quietly, "Even if you did vanish, I'd wait forever for you to return."

He smirked almost playfully, and I returned it, and without another word he disappeared.

I shook my head and groaned to my feet. Now I could eat.

(A/N: Grr...this I've got two more chapters, but now I'm thinking that they're probably better off happening a bit later in the novel, so it may be a little while before I can update again. I've got one or two more flashback ideas...and then there's that one thing...and that thing, too...ooh, and that wacky thing...

Is it sad that I'm super frustrated with my vow to use short chapters in this story? Avenari's format just felt so much more comfortable. Here, I almost feel like the story has ADD, and keeps getting sidetracked into stuff that could be combined into fewer chapters. I'm thinking of consolidating some of this. That way it's less jarring later on when I'm going on long, multifaceted chases through plot and characterization. Yeah, that's what I should do. LONG CHAPTERS FTW!

Also, there's too much lemonade. What the heck was wrong with me three years ago, when I last worked on this thing? PLOT! PLOT, COME BACK! I PROMISE I'LL TRY HARDER FROM NOW ON! My only saving grace is the fact that I can start adding new stuff now...*sigh*)