.ZHAR placed one hand over .CAI’s and slowly stepped back until they were both standing with their backs up against the closest wall. He wanted to be in the area of her shield and present as little a target as possibile. His own defenses were about to go down for a moment. She didn’t seem to object. The shield wasn’t up yet, she was probably concentrating.
His thoughts still felt a bit slow from the previous backlash he had suffered in the tunnels, and he was glad to have the little blue-hued healer with him, though he would never admit it to her. Healers were a rarity among Ghosts, and that made them a commodity. And like any commodity in Purgatory, that put them in a powerful position. He liked that .CAI had her insecurities, it kept her from abusing that power. It was too bad he had never met her before being found by .SOURCE. He could have formed his own coven, then. Maybe he still could, if he could get her away from .GREP. But survival first.
Reaching out, slowly and cautiously this time, .ZHAR let his energy sense drift outward and tried to detect whatever it was that had made the noise—or anything else in the vicinity, for that matter. .SORT, if the bastard hadn’t run off. Advanced warnings on more //Wraiths would be welcome, even more so than detecting //Loot. Money would mean little to him if he was to suffer a Soul Crash here.
.ZHAR kept his power dull at first, letting it reveal that there was nothing in this room aside from themselves. Then he began to siphon more energy into his ability and increase its scope.
He first felt the presence on the very edge of the room, huddling near a giant archway to the north of the room. He could never see shapes very well with his ability, but he could sense immediately that it was a second-tier //Wraith, in terms of danger somewhere high above //RATS but somewhere below the //VIPER still pounding its head against his barrier downstairs.
On a whim he extended his power further and that’s when he felt the Ghost. He or she was so distant from their current position that he couldn’t pinpoint the exact location, though he wanted to say that the Ghost was standing in the station entrance. He had only barely felt the Ghost’s presence before his senses turned to static in his mind. He shut down his ability at once, not sure if this was an attack from the Ghost or simply his ability being strained. It did only have so far a range, after all, and he wasn’t even sure if the Ghost was their enemy. It could very well be .SORT, or even .SOURCE, though he thought he would have recognized the energy signature immediately in either case.
To the others it seemed like .ZHAR had become a rock: he stood stock still, his head slowly turning on his neck as he scanned the area. Twice his aura pulsated with a flash of color. There was no other change.
Self doubt has set in, which is a sign that I haven’t been writing frequently enough. But then, I’ve been too busy. Not necessarily time busy, but mentally busy. Hard, sometimes, to have the mental energy to work through a new section of the story. But I did really enjoy what I penned tonight. Here’s an excerpt:
.CAI grabbed .GREP’s arm as they retreated. Her energies were soothing, rapidly winding through .GREP’s Ghost. Her light blue, wispy tendrils curved into his amber form, wrapping him from head to toe before returning to her. The experience, for .GREP, was not unlike receiving a full-body pat-down and was unashamedly intrusive. But all the members of the group had long ago to become used to .CAI’S techniques.
You’re not badly hurt. The risk that would come with trying to heal you fully now isn’t worth the gain but that should ease the pain, let you run. Tell me if it gets worse.
Her mind-voice was far softer than her normal scathing tone. In return she felt a wave of .GREP’s gratitude and something
the room was quiet, though the city lights shone out brightly beyond the windows. If she were to open them, the night life would come flooding in as a mixture of music, yelling, and the sounds of various vehicles. But she didn’t move; she simply stood and looked out. His eyes wandered up the naked, gentle curve of her back, marking the muscles that made up its landscape and the scars that told her story. He could see her face reflected in the window. Her eyes caught his and he reached for the bottle at his elbow, taking a slow swig of the heavy liquor. It tasted like mouthwash and cough syrup but was, somehow, not half bad. Vesper, he called her, and told her to come to him. She laughed and told him to come to her. He drank again, and brought the bottle with him
else, a memory he didn’t known she seen. A daydream, in the middle of night. Had her voice invoked it? She wondered who the woman was, and then felt guilty for wondering. She hadn’t been meant to see that. She’d been a voyeur. Unintentionally, but now she needed to do the courtesy of putting it out of her mind.
“Don’t get hurt again,” she said out loud, in a harsher tone, severing their connection.
Ten crazy busy days and now I’m finally getting a chance to write again. 10,000 words so far and we’ve already gotten in one battle and introduced the main players. I’m trying not to second guess myself on this one, at least not until it’s all finished. It’s a motto of mine that I try to bring to writing and editing: don’t fix the machine until you’ve built it.
.GREP got to his feet, pain shooting through his body. He didn’t quite understand pain on the Ghost Plane. It should be an issue of mind over matter, you’d think. It would make sense in a place where you could walk on walls and will things, like .CAI’s nets, into existence. But then, that was lesson number one that he’d learned to obey as a Ghost: never expect something to make sense. .SOURCE’s words.
The //RATs were a nuisance, as always. If they could be knocked out, even if temporarily, it’d buy the team time to find a better spot—being pincered in here by the other “trouble” .ZHAR was sensing would be suicidal. But then, something was interfering. He’d never known a //RAT, which was a low-level Wraith, to recover from a shot like the one he’d landed on that one. And he’d felt something, too, when .SORT had tried to will it to sleep. Someone was watching. Probably the same someone who was shielding whatever was coming from his heightened senses. There was no way to prepare for it. He’d already been caught off guard once in this fight, and it was only the first move. He needed to start the game over entirely. He was used to this kind of analysis. But he was also used to telling it to .SOURCE and letting him make the final call. The man had so much more experience then he did.
“Disengage,” he heard himself say, before he realized he’d made the decision. But yes, it was the right decision. “Disengage! We need to find a more defensible position. If we can find a branch in the tunnels as we advance, we might be able to flank them.”
Lesson twelve: Don’t engage the enemy if you don’t have to. If you do have to engage the enemy, always do it on your terms.
What?! I actually have time to write again?!
The colors of .GREP’s scream were a splash of beauty across his vision..SORT had been impressed by .CAI’s display of power; he had gotten the idea that she wasn’t a fighter, but evidently that had not been a correct guess. More than this, he had been impressed by how fantastic it was to watch another Ghost in action. He had never imagined it could be this way. He had thought that every Ghost would affect the Planes in much the same way he did, with the same patterns and the same artist’s brush, and now he was discovering how wonderful being wrong could be. He saw every detail of .CAI’s manipulation of her energy shield, the way she sent her thoughts through it, tightening it here and there, turning it into a net piece by piece. It was a careful movement, calculated; and yet it only took the span of a few seconds to come together. He felt nothing for the Wraiths which she caught in her trap. None of the vibrancy of life flowed in them. They were made up of dead, black matter, lacking all of the vibrancy of .CAI’s brilliant shift of blue static. He thought he could see images in that swirl of tints. Their high pitched whistles were just that: sounds displeasing to the ear. .GREP’s scream was a living object that went shifting like a frightened snake down into the darkness of the tunnels. .SORT watched it go with fascination, and saw with equal fascination the sonic path of .GREP’s bullet as it flared past him, the man’s aim knocked off course by the //RAT which now gripped his leg in its fangs. .SORT almost casually decided to try and do his own part to stop this attack. He turned toward their enemy, and pointed his arm toward the creature; his energy flared a brighter green as he projected his will toward it. Then he spoke his order, trying to impose his command on the creature: “Sleep.”
Everything in the GHOST world was hostile. But things didn’t usually come this well-prepared. Thoughts and possibilities collided with each other in .GREP’s mind and spilled
they’re countering us. We’ve been set up. Controlled retreat, but take it slow—advancing toward .SOURCE’s known position might be a trap. If we can find a branch in the tunnels as we advance, we might be able to flank them
over telepathically to the rest of the group. Probably whatever was coming heard it, too, but there was no point in masking his thoughts. Things were about to get loud. Walking slowly backward, .GREP kept his sight trained on the bend in the tunnel. If nothing else, maybe he could thin them out a little before they got to close combat range. He risked one quick look behind him to see .CAI was, as usual, taking her own approach to things. She had planted her feet in a fighter’s pose and her Ghost’s usual sky-blue color had paled so that she seemed to be see-through. The energy structures that made up her form were like a visible nervous system, with pulsating clusters around the brain and the heart.
From down the tunnel came an odd sound.
While he took his place in the formation, as .GREP had ordered, .SORT couldn’t help but question what was really going on and whether it was some kind of test meant for his benefit. He was relatively new to being a Ghost—at least, in respect to the rest of this team—and there wasn’t enough evidence here to convince him that this experience was as new to them as it was to him. If this was a test, that was slightly amusing. If not, then unsettling; this coven was supposed to be one of the best around, and one thing he did know from experience was that the being the best always got you more, stronger enemies. He wondered whether he was going to get himself killed by fault of having joined the wrong crowd. As soon as he thought it, he couldn’t but keep a smile from his face (or what passed for one here on the Planes). As if he had not been risking exactly the same thing much of his life anyway.
He noticed the thin barrier erecting itself around them. That had to be the girl, .CAI. He relished the way the barrier formed, the way the vibrations of her energy subtly reverberated into the air at just the right frequency to create the shield, which he could perceive through a combination of senses that he had still no words to describe, and which his brain processed as a mixture of tints and hue variations. The Ghost World was an art gallery to him; more than that, it was the paintings in the art gallery. It was being in those paintings. It was art itself. Every little action made on the Planes he detected as an incredible stroke of a brush held by an unbearably skilled hand.
“Well it’s definitely a goddamn Monday,” .CAI said dryly. “Someone see something I don’t?”
Her words were splash of color to his senses. In the real world, he would have kept to himself, just waiting to see what was going on here—he still wasn’t sure that the situation hadn’t been engineered to test him—but being on the Planes, where every action was so meaningful, his own emotions became twisted and harder to read. He felt himself compelled to talk, for no other reason than to ground himself.
“I think we’ll see something very soon,” he said, thinking to himself that he was in on the joke. He couldn’t help but push it further: “Excuse me, but as the new guy, I have to ask… do any of you have the slightest idea who could have done this to us?”
.GREP played rear guard, .ZHAR moved in front, .SORT and .CAI stood next to each other in the middle. .GREP scanned the area behind him, tapping into his powers of multi-spectral vision. In the real world, .GREP had read flowery writers who would metaphorically say a character “cast” their vision around an area. Now, .GREP literally cast his vision behind him, the way he might throw a baseball or cast a fishing line. His sight zoomed at high speed through the walls of the tunnel’s curve and
long straight-away, down which he can see the movement of several life forms. They are indistinct in his enhanced vision, like trying to see forms through a shroud, but they are moving along the walls and ceilings, which is a bad sign. .ZHAR will have to confirm what they are
a moment later he gestured with his free hand and sent a thought to .ZHAR. There, multiple marks behind us, possibly hostile. What d’ya pick up? As he thought it, cringing at the feeling the telepathy left in his mind, like a bass vibration running through his brain, .GREP set down the briefcase and knelt in front of it, quickly clicking it open.
.ZHAR, search for patterns!
The translated thought hit .ZHAR as a simple command. Telepathy was not an exact science and relied as much on the receiver to be unbiased as it did the sender to be accurate. As he obeyed the order, scanning the tunnel around them, .ZHAR felt his Ghost flush a brighter purple for a moment before settling back to its usual dim glow. It was not irritation, but simply… contempt? The change was unavoidable—his Ghost control was not always on par with his physical self-control, although the signs were more confusing here in the Planes, anyway. .GREP would catch the flash, of that he was sure, but would think little of it. The man was observant—.ZHAR had to give him that much—but in an efficient sort of way. If the data wasn’t immediately relevant, he put it aside.
Expanding his mind out, .ZHAR searched for the hot embers of energy that usually signified other beings, as well as searching for the tiny boxed sparks that his mind associated with the presence of energy fields. It was routine by
sense life forms approaching from not far behind: based on their speed, they will be upon us in about a minute. Behind them, much further back down the tunnel, there is a much larger presence proceeding towards us. It will take longer to arrive
now, and came to him without much effort or focus.
The nature of the Ghost World was such that senses could sometimes become confused. The Ghost World seemed to have physical form. There was gravity: things could fall in the Ghost World. If they fell from high enough, they broke. There were sounds, and smells, and certain places that were warmer or colder than others. Yet none of these things were experienced in the way that we were in reality. A Ghost might recognize that she was cold without feeling discomfort or stand somewhere that she knew was dark and yet have no trouble seeing. She might even (if she had the power) decide to challenge gravity and walk up the side of one of the Ghost World’s many buildings. Even more disturbing, the bundles of energy that formed her feet into accurate representations of human heels and toes would make the sounds of footsteps as she walked up the building. It was like a broken video game, one where the rules were partial to change if you spoke to them in the right voice.
Sometimes even the simple perception of being in one place could become blurred and unfocused, like a memory someone is trying to recall. At those moments, entire journeys could seem to go by in an instant, though miles of “physical” land had been traveled. This phenomenon was called “Blitzing” and it was particularly prevalent in the winding tunnels of the //Undercross//, which was why so many Ghosts used it for quick traveling on the Planes. Spending too long in the Ghost World could drain a person to dangerous limits. If those limits were crossed, a Ghost would fade entirely, becoming part of that boundless energy, and the psyche of the user would return to the aether. It happened, oh yes. It happened more often than some Covens wished to admit. Sometimes a team of four or five Ghosts would go into the Planes and, if they stayed too long, only three or four would come back. Whatever a Ghost’s physical representation was on the Planes, it was an essential part of making it back to reality. If it dissipated, so did the person. Because of this, the //Undercross// was an essential tool for getting around fast.
The place resembled something out of 1950’s New Yorka sprawling grand central station made up of ancient architecture and filled with odd knick-knacks, such as the gigantic clock that seemed to change its time at random. It could best be described as the subway system for the Planes, though most Ghosts preferred not to stray into its vast tunnels and networks. There were no rifts in the //Undercross// to offer quick escape back to Midnight, and no one knew how far the tunnels extended.New York, Grand Central Station, subways… these things survived as pictures in dusty coffee-table tomes (.GREP’s mother had owned one when he was a child), informing a cultural memory that no one living had actually ever experienced. Or maybe a very few had, but that comes much later in the story.
Last bit for the night. First real dialog in the piece. This concludes the prelude and brings me into the manuscript proper. From here on out, I have a lot to drawn upon. Going to get started tomorrow. If I can keep up this pace, I should have the completed manuscript by summer. Regardless, I’m enjoying the hell out of this.
.GREP grunted as he pulled her into the highest room of the watchtower. It was little more than four arches which supported a roof and which had once held four massive stained-glass faces in each arch. Now only one remained, and it was covered with so much grime that whatever the image had been was indecipherable. An ornate chandelier hung from the roof, it’s lights blaring almost offensively against the gloom, throwing shadows everywhere.
“Me and the kid had a bet,” .GREP said, his features stretching to accommodate his dimpled smile. His blue eyes met her own teal ones in silent greeting.
The ‘kid’ in question, .SORT, walked into the light, towering over .GREP. “Which you lost,” he said earnestly. His own chiseled features betrayed none of .GREP’s amusement, though she sensed he wasn’t adverse to a game as long as there was a chance for him to claim victory.
.GREP shrugged at her. “I said you’d be here by the first rift.” He turned back to .SORT and pointed in mock accusation. “But you said she wouldn’t make it at all, so I was closer to right. You owe me a beer.”
.CAI’s eyes strayed to .GREP’s outstretched arm. They all had their scars, and .GREP’s extended up his right arm in a pall of warped flesh, disappearing into his tight muscle shirt. A Wraith had caught him on the Planes and ripped a chunk out of his Ghost. .CAI had been able to heal the wound, but never the scar.
.GREP looked back at her. “I like your new look,” he quipped, nodding at .CAI’s hair. “Trying to copy me?” Her hair that had been black on the street, black as .GREP’s was naturally, was now a gross mixture of green and gray where the color was draining out, and a glaring platinum blonde where it was already gone.
“Yeah,” .CAI said, her voice lathered in sarcasm. “Thought I’d try being ugly for a day, see how you do it.”
But .GREP was already turning away, touching his ear and radioing .ZHAR to tell him to get ready to jump. .CAI wondered how long they had. Twenty seconds? Thirty? How close had .GREP come to losing that bet? .SORT had stalked towards one of the arches and now stood with his hands in the pockets of his slacks, his open trench coat and shaggy brown hair blowing in the wind.
Barely a dozen seconds passed before she felt the rift wash over them. Stray pebbles and bits of granite on the dirty watchtower floor trembled and jittered, as stones sometimes do when a train passes by. She saw .GREP phase out. He walked through a shadow and then it was like he melded into it. She didn’t see .SORT go. The pull had always been strong for her and she went almost immediately after .GREP left. With a tug at her midriff, she phased into the Ghost World.
Yep. Still writing strong. It will be another 1000 words longer today by the time I’m done.
The stairs went up the watchtower in a stoic square pattern, hugging each wall like the stairwell of an hotel. CAI took the wide steps three at a time and was breathing heavily when she reached the third landing. Only seventeen more stories to go, she thought. The Watchtower was an anomaly in a city whose towers and skyscrapers were defined by black metal, blue super carbon, silver titanium, and shimmering glass. It was brown brick and gray mortar, but more than that, it was brick and mortar which dared to jut into the sky. Like an ancient Tower of Babel, it mocked the more modern structures. I can rise, too, it seemed to say, and I don’t need your fancy super carbon to stay up. The fact that it didn’t reach as high as the true skyscrapers didn’t take away from its solemn grandeur.
Antique lamps lined the staircase and some flickered with ghostly light, shining on the rotten bits of carpet that still clung to the concrete steps like hair on a rotting skull. Huge ragged holes in the walls served as windows onto the city scape, which came steadily into view the further .CAI climbed. Sometimes the effect was disconcerting. She would round a corner, feel a blast of cool air, and find herself staring out into nothing. The worst part was near the eighteenth story, where a whole wall had collapsed, leaving only the staircase framed by abyss on either side. To her right was a dark pit lit only by the pale lamps, giving her a dim view of the stairs spiraling away towards the ground. To her left was the inner city of Midnight; Purgatory, with its lights spread out like a blanket of stars that had fallen from the sky. It was early, yet. A little past midnight, those lights would later be joined by six actual stars, the only stars that still cared to shine over the city. No matter how much light the city polluted the night with, those stars would still be brightly visible. Far in the distance, the Uni-Crown stood like the finger of God, the tallest building in the city.
.CAI came upon this treacherous opening at a small sprint, and caught herself just in time to avoid running out into the open air. She fell to her knees on the last step before the opening. This hole hadn’t been here the last time. The Watchtower, like everything else in Midnight, was slowly falling apart.
Not fun to think about the fact that all of this story was close to being forgotten. On a whim, I had long ago saved the files and buried them in some folders. Good thing, too, because where it was stored online, it has disappeared. I say good thing, because it’s really inspiring me to write way more than I did on the last story.
The city of Midnight is a sprawl. It sits upon the frozen earth as a black blemish, a gigantic circle enclosed on most sides by the Heavenly Peaks. At the center of the circle lies the Inner City, also called Purgatory. Here ingeniously designed skyscrapers twist metallic girders and glass faces into the sky; here cars built to fit some lost aesthetic drive the lengths of ever-decaying highways; here is constant noise and chatter as the majority of Midnight’s inhabitants work themselves to death, or entertain themselves into a placated acceptance of life. The noise, if you listen carefully from the right spot, is sometimes broken by the howl of one of the Tall Men.
The rest of Midnight can be defined as thus: the Peripheries, which are the outer ring closest to the frozen Heavenly Peaks and the icy wastes; MidCity, which is most everything else; and the abandoned zones, spotted dead zones throughout the city with no order or reason. It was in one of these dead zones, a one of the only ones inside Purgatory—rare for a dead zone to appear in the Inner City, and a continual source of anxiety to those who lived within view of it—that a certain traitor of the #STRIKERS had gone for a quick fix of the flesh and had instead ended up with his own knife embedded in his heart outside of a bar called Hobknobs which played live jazz music all night long, the louder the better.
This dead zone was special. It contained The Watchtower, and The Watchtower contained a rift that activated at exactly 11:59pm and 12:01pm every night, on either side of midnight.
.CAI pulled herself away from the building, flexing her red hands. Looking back, she saw a dark black stain streaking down where she’d been leaning, running down towards the body of the man she’d killed. The unnatural rain was washing out her dye. She reached up and undid the bun of hair, letting it fall across her shoulders. It would stain her coat, ruining it, but she didn’t care. She needed a new coat anyway. After tonight’s encounter, this one now had a tear along the side from where the traitor had rushed at her with a knife after
he had seen the scar above her right eye and maybe she had been too cocky in not covering it up with some kind of makeup because he had known then and had had time to draw the knife before she could react
he’d realized who she was and why she was there. That same knife was now buried in his sternum. She’d seen
a street walker. A young girl with black hair tied up in a cute bun. And after all, why not? Wasn’t that why he came here every week? The place was known for street walkers. It was just that they weren’t usually this young or this attractive. And this one was dressed almost demurely, with that buttoned up purple coat and the skirt that fell down to right below her knees. Long for a street walker, young for a street walker, cute for a street walker. She could be making much more money in the InnerCity than in an abandoned zone. But then he had felt something different tonight, that something good was going to come his way. He wasn’t usually picky, but he’d turned down the first three walkers he’d seen tonight. And this was his reward for his patience. He imagined that black hair loose and falling over his thighs while she serviced him, one of his hands wrapped through it, caressing the fine shape of her skull. He moved forward to taste those large sensuous lips, and his eye strayed to her one imperfection, a tear shaped discoloration above her right eye
the knife flash in his hand and had barely had time to turn the slashing wrist aside before she heard the sound of ripping and the knife had torn into her coat instead of skin.
that’s why I skipped over the first three. Ghost bitch planted the thought in my head, she ensorceled me. Bitch can’t weight more than a hundred pounds. I’ll slice her open and spill those Witch guts all over the pavement
.CAI shook her head to clear it. The man’s thoughts were rushing over her like cars passing by on a busy highway. She leaned close to the body, held a hand close to the slack mouth. Sure enough, she could feel a slight warm breath against her palm
how did she move so fast that should have cut her from hip to neck and how did she have a grip like that and oh god how was she pushing the knife back towards him, towards his own chest and then he was knocked off his feet, thrown against the side of the building, and the knife was pushing its way into his sternum and his muscles were relaxing and contracting and the ramen he’d had that afternoon was emptying itself into his pants and she was pulling away still alive
.CAI drove one palm hard into the handle of the knife, driving it sideways and deeper, piercing the man’s heart and ending the deluge of his thoughts in her mind.
So I abandoned everything I’d written so far and began a completely new version of “Two Sides of Midnight,” setting it in a science fiction world this time which I had come up with a couple years ago for an online game. thankfully held onto all my notes and reading them tonight was completely inspired. Here’s the opening:
Her shoulders pushed up against the cold stone of the building. Her head rested back upon its cushion of black hair. She could feel the small bob that she’d tied it into pressed against her neck like a finger poised to give her a massage. Water dripped into her eyes, blurring her vision so that she couldn’t see the rain; she felt where it splashed against her skin and began to eat into her make up. She imagined the layers of paint dropping off of her cheeks as white tear drops. Passing her tongue over her rain-soaked lips, she tasted gasoline and vinegar.
The fear was sinking in upon her and no amount of acid rain could burn it away. She tried to tone down her emotions, to merely be uncomfortable. She could feel the cold of the building through the thin, purple, coat that clung tightly to her back. She forced herself to keep her eyes open and to let the rain burn them. Though none of these bodily sensations were pleasant, they were all better than that sense of slipping out of her skin against her will, of not having a body.
An airwhale passed above her and for an instant she was illuminated by its blinding spotlight. Then the ship passed, leaving Inner Purgatory, heading to either MidCity or the Peripheries on some unknown errand. Her thoughts stayed with it, and for the passing of a moment she felt she might be able to drift away with it, a virtual stowaway. Then her ear vibrated with the hollow echoe of static. It was like having a glass pressed over her ear with a fly trapped inside of it. The buzz made her cringe but also finally brought her back to herself. She reached up her left hand and rubbed her earlobe between two slender fingers, adjusting the volume of the implanted chip.
“I thought we were on radio silence.” Her voice was a whisper lost in the clatter of the rain against the steel street.
Timur released the last strap and stepped back from the bed. The girl sat up, her long golden hair falling over her face. One pale hand brushed it aside and there was an unconscious grace in the movement that made Jhyipp feel unsettled. It was as if that movement contained a hint of some tragedy to come, that she couldn’t yet see. She hadn’t told the girl that the establishment she’d been found outside was a brothel. Logically, it all made sense. A beautiful girl with an exotic hair color found dazed outside of a disreputable place was no great mystery. The only question was whether the girl had tried to run away and been beaten by her pimp or whether some customer had taken more advantage of her than she had planned on. Yet this didn’t feel quite right to Jhyipp. The explanation wasn’t that simple, and she sensed this even if she couldn’t see it, the way she knew she had a nose underneath her wide set eyes. Besides, Tyrenis was not an idiot. He’d checked with patrons of the brothel (patrons, in case the brothel owner had reason to lie) and no girl meeting the description had ever worked there. The only blonde girl there was a summer child with deep ebony skin. And her normally light brown hair was dyed using the astringent bark of the Rickshaw tree, mixed with the pulpy pollens of the Poghlam flowers.
Blonde. That was the first thing Jhyipp noticed as she pulled back the curtain, and it dominated her attention, as it had when Tyrenis had first appeared with the unconscious girl. She had startlingly blonde hair. It wasn’t platinum blonde, the more whitish color you sometimes saw amongst the Summer people. This was golden blonde, the kind that, it was whispered, was still found amongst the humans left in Winter. Was found only in Winter, in fact. Jhyipp felt a chill at the thought.
“So, my captors show themselves,” the girl hissed, her voice full again of indignation. Then her gray-blue eyes found Jhyipp and her lips froze on the next sentence in a silent circle of surprise. “What are you?” she asked.
Jhyipp didn’t know how to answer. She was used to people being afraid of her or, more usually, treating her like a shunned animal. She was used, in other words, to people responding negatively to her, but not knowing what she was? The Beast Creatures had been used as slaves in Ileadd for hundreds of years before the wars put a stop to it, and the Slave Wars themselves hadn’t exactly left recent memory.
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