Monday, September 30, 2013

House of Slide, Wilds: Chapter 5

Last day of September! How did this happen? Yes, one day at a time, but it didn't seem like it. Soup season is here. Ah well. I do like soup.

Chapter 5

Dear eldest brother,
I appreciate the mango juice. I licked the paper and came away with an ink stained tongue, but ink has its own deliciousness, particularly mixed with mango and the taste of a mysterious southern hemisphere. That’s half the world you occupy with one single statement: the southern hemisphere. I could do that too, I guess. My days are relegated to not much of interest in the Northern hemisphere… I feel more expansive already. One should always live expansively, unless you’re right on the equator and then what would you be?
Looking is not the same as seeing? Of course not. Overseeing, overlooking, season and look son, good seeing, good looking, sea worthy, look worthy, it’s all topsy turvy different any which way you look at or see it. Look and see here! And here.
I received my worst grade so far last week, albeit was an A, it was a very crooked one. Mrs. Heppelmeir should practice her handwriting. My best A came from Mr. Zimble. I like his name; it practically rings in the mouth. He hands it to you with a nod and an, “Excellent work miss so-and-so”. We’re all excellent, it’s true. What else would you get in a school seething with perfectionist daughters of Houses who strive to overachieve the other overachievers? Stalemate. Perfection. Stale perfection. Doesn’t that sound appetizing? We’re having a practice ball this coming weekend. They’re importing boys for the occasion. We will be a stunning spectacle of stale perfection. So sad you can’t make it, except you’ll be tangoing in Argentina. A shocking, stunning spectacle of Wild abandon. Send me a photo.
Your always appropriate if slightly apropos sister

Chapter 5
I didn’t want to wake up, not when I could burrow deeper into the soft warmth of heavenly down and stay insulated from anything and everything that I didn’t want to face. I opened my eyes a slit to see sunshine then rolled over, slipping back into hazy dreams of pleasant things like lemon shortbread and peppermint tea, but finally, I opened my eyes and they stayed open. A buzzing warmth filled my limbs as I blinked at the white ceiling. I heard footsteps crossing the floor above me while birds chirped outside the window.
Where was I? I sat up, throwing back the heavy duvet before I jerked the duvet back over me, covering my nakedness. Where were my clothes? They should have trailed across the floor like they were where I’d taken them off, but the floor was bare, and so was I, completely naked in the Hybrid’s bed. I swallowed as I tried to stay calm, but the wind was already picking up outside the window. I took a deep breath as I forced myself to push the blanket back so that I could stand up, naked, in someone else’s room.
It all came back as I stood there feeling cold and wishing I could crawl back into bed: my brother’s wedding party, his wife, Cami, and of course, the Hybrid who must have leaned me, making me unthinking enough to fall mindlessly to sleep. I dug my nails into my hands as I struggled to stay calm, to breathe deeply enough that I wouldn’t reveal my panic. I was in a foreign country, without my father’s consent, having failed miserably at finding my brother before it was too late. It hardly mattered that the Hybrid had leaned me for whatever irrational reason, except that it did. I couldn’t lose control, not for a few minutes, certainly not for an entire night.
I glared at the bed and a dresser while plants dangled from the ceiling in corners, growing over each other in cheerful chaos. I opened and slammed drawers closed, but there was hardly anything wearable, a few t-shirts, a pair of pants ripped beyond belief and a long sleeved men’s shirt in pale blue. I pulled on the blue shirt, fumbling with the buttons as my hands trembled and the wind outside the house howled. I ripped the legs off the pants, enjoying the sound of shredding fabric. At least I could rationally shred something.
Once the holes were no longer part of the pants, I pulled them on, trying not to notice how tight it felt in the hips while the waist gapped. I let the jeans settle around me, fighting back the snarl as I recalled the girls who wore that sort of thing, girls who would have tied the men’s shirts to reveal smooth bellies and worn short shorts to show off tan legs so that men would like them. At least with the black runes right below the frayed ends of the ripped jeans, I did not look like I was trying to catch a man, at least not one I wanted to keep alive.
I shook my head as I forced myself to open the door, out into the hall where it was possible for me to bump into my brother or his wife. It didn’t matter what I wore in this house full of people I would probably never see again. I stopped outside the door in the hall, the feel of the rug under my feet rough, jarring. Whoever had taken my clothes hadn’t left my shoes.
I had to leave, to go home and stop all of this insanity, but first, I had to find a Hybrid and teach him a lesson about how not to treat a Wild Daughter.
The hall was empty, clean, bare of any adornment besides the odd sculptures that looked badly done. I searched the house, knowing that I’d heard someone in the room above me, hopefully someone who could tell me where I could find the Hybrid.
I hesitated outside of the room right above the one I’d slept in, frozen when I heard my brother’s laugh, a real laugh that made me stumble backwards, blinking away tears. My brother had really decided to abandon the House. He’d found a home, a life with a Hotblood so alien to everything I loved and understood.
I ran down the stairs, soundless on my bare feet, through the kitchen and out the back door. I had to get out, to be in control for a few minutes before I forced myself to get on a plane and go home, to face my father’s disapproval and let the knowledge of my failure sink into my bones.
I slipped out of the door into the embrace of the cool morning breeze. I stood on the top step with my eyes closed, letting the breeze swirl my hair while clouds raced above me.
I let myself breathe, deep breaths while I tried to clear the adrenaline from my system. I had to accept the loss of Saturn. I had to accept the reality of my position as Daughter, next in line after my father.
After I had myself mostly under control I let myself look at the lawn and garden, appalled at the mess scattered across the yard from the Hotblood party. After a Wild gathering there was no sign of it afterwards, but this lawn had discarded plates, clothes and shoes. As I searched the yard, I noticed a shadow under the oak tree, a slight figure that had me stomping across the yard as my banked anger flared furiously to life. I didn’t notice the glass until I stepped on it. I ignored the burning, but my smooth pace was interrupted as the glass embedded deeper into my foot.
The sharp sting subsided to a throb by the time I made it to the tree, forcing my hands to remain uncurled and the words when I reached him, to come out a purr instead of a snarl.
“You have a death wish.”
Matthew sat against the bark of the tree with his head resting on his knees until my voice made him raise his head, eyes larger than they had seemed the night before, filled with a world of weariness.
“Good morning. I’d lend you my knife, but I’d hate to give you ideas.” I clenched my teeth fighting the need to strangle him even as the sound of his voice made me want to soften and comply. He continued, glancing pointedly at my foot. “You shouldn’t step on broken glass.”
“Whether I step on glass or drink it, it’s none of your business. How dare you lean me into your bed?” I took a step towards him, struggling not to throw myself at him and rip open his throat. “How dare you leave me vulnerable, without even my shoes? Who do you think you are? Do you honestly think that you’re going to get away with such blatant manipulations without any consequences?
He rubbed a hand over his face, a hand that bore fresh signs of bruising beneath the sallow skin. “You’re even more beautiful when you want to kill something.”
I blinked, fighting back my instinctual need to hurt him. “At least my beauty is only mildly appealing to someone as twisted as yourself.”
“Helen.” His voice rang, piercing the anger like it were soggy tissue. “Why do you think that I leaned you to sleep?”
“In your bed? I don’t know. I don’t know what happened after I was unconscious.” He frowned, like he was disappointed in me. “I haven’t had the pleasure of associating with Hybrids before. Tell me. Why did you lean me to sleep last night?”
“Are you sure it was only one night? You could have been sleeping for weeks for all you know, months.” His eyes were hard, chips of flint but his voice still sent shivers down my spine. Matthew stood, his hair down over his cheekbones while he stared at me, fingering a knife in his long fingers. The knife glimmered oddly in the light, the metal not quite gold and not quite silver, a bit like his eyes. I tensed as he came closer before he dropped on his heels beside me. “I would be willing to take out the glass for you.”
“You think I’m going to let you cut me open? Do you enjoy cutting people?”
“Of course,” he said in a low voice that I strained to hear, like I might miss a syllable otherwise. “Your blood smells sweet, far sweeter than your brother’s. Like violets and wind.”
I could see the back of his neck, a line that was red, painful looking, like he’d recently taken an injury that hadn’t healed very quickly. I dropped to my knees, grabbing his face to force him to look at me, to show me his eyes again.
“What’s happened?” I knew that look, the pain, the exhaustion, the weariness of more than physical exertion. He’d killed. Many, if I were right, and he hadn’t liked it.
“You’re touching me. It’s easier for me to lean you if there’s physical contact. That doesn’t make you nervous?” he asked, his mouth twisting into a sneer.
I squeezed lightly, but I didn’t feel any pleasure when he winced. He’d already been physically tormented. I dropped my hand and sat, pulling my knees to my chest as I glared at him. “Tell me before I do something you’ll really hate.”
He closed his eyes, shaking his head. “I might like whatever you had in mind, particularly if it involved sleep, long, permanent, blissful rest.”
I touched his face, realizing that his cheek was smooth, silky instead of prickly.
“You shaved.”
He didn’t seem to notice my touch; at least, he didn’t open his eyes. “I showered too. For a long time to get off all the blood.” He sighed. “Harding fell last night. One night, so much death. One less House.”
I swallowed. “You’re a Hunter, a musician. What do you have to do with Houses?” There was too much to process. Harding’s fall meant that neutral territories would shift, that the process of clean up—catching all the members who slipped through the first slaughter—would probably shut down all of my routes home. I could be stuck there for days, weeks even.
“Are you sure you want to know?” The growl that came out of my throat made him smile, mockingly. “I am Matthew Carver, son, without the capital letter, of Carve. I serve the House, when they require it.”
The world spun, and I found myself unable to breathe, to choke in any of the air that was suddenly too thick, too heavy, too viscous to take into my lungs. He couldn’t be part of Carve. He couldn’t be related to Jarvais and Camilla with their identical golden hair and brown eyes. Matthew’s skin was wrong, his eyes were wrong, his mouth… too soft and full for the rest of his angular face and jutting cheekbones, a mouth Camilla painted red and made the most of, a mouth Jarvais…
I put my head on my knees as I tried to breathe, to think, to function normally as the sickness swallowed me again.
“You’re Camilla’s brother?” My voice came out small, vulnerable, uncertain. I forced myself to look up at him, to glare at him in spite of the cloud of black spots filling my vision.
“Half brother. And Jarvais’s. He’s the ambitious force that wanted Harding to fall so badly. He’s motivated in ways I will never be when he wants something.”
“What does that mean? Camilla… did she want me to meet you? Did you make me sick, the way you’re doing now? Are you trying to make me vulnerable, to serve me to Jarvais or Carve?” His eyes reflected nothing as he gazed at me until I threw myself at him, filled with a mindless budding fury that barely realized when he twisted, pinning me down against earth that rose around me, swallowing me with nowhere to go unless I went through him. The prison of earth, cool and heavy around my body, like a grave, made me fight harder against his hard lines, lines that held against me as unmovable as the earth.
“Helen,” he said in a soft voice that I could not ignore however much I thrashed against his touch, against the ground that he controlled. “I don’t work for Camilla or Jarvais, only Carve. Carve doesn’t know anything about you, unless Camilla… I asked Cami to watch you, to make sure that you didn’t leave if you woke up before it was over, to keep you safe. She must have your shoes.”
“Why?” I glared up at him, hating the feel of his hands against my shoulders, his body against mine as I struggled. I shouldn’t have been so weak, so pathetic, so unlike myself. “You are making me sick; don’t deny it.”
“I’m not doing anything. I make you sick, but I’m not making you sick,” he frowned down at me, his gaze shifting to my lips, my mouth. “You want to know. You want to remember. The blocks are cracking, because of what you want, not because of what I do.”
I blinked at him, aware of his body, of the earth around me, against me, holding me while his gaze made my mouth itch, like I could feel the pressure of his lips against mine. “Get off of me.”
He raised an eyebrow, a flick that conveyed a world of amusement. “So that you can attack me again?”
“You say that there are blocks on me making me sick? How do you trigger them?”
He shook his head, his hair tickling my face as it swept over my skin. “Jarvais. Carve.” I felt a wave a nausea after each word. “It’s not me, it’s my House, who I’m connected to, connections that were blocked in here,” he said, sliding the tips of his fingers against my face. I felt his touch with every nerve, unwilling to miss a single sensation.
“I have blocks… you mean parts of my mind aren’t accessible to me? Who did that?” My breathing became jerky again as I struggled against him, trying to hurt him, but I couldn’t move. My frustrated roar as I bucked beneath him was the only thing I could do.
“Helen,” he said, sounding amused. “For all I know, you did it to yourself. Not many Cools would put blocks on someone. It’s not considered ethical to alter someone else’s memories, but removing entire pieces without their consent…” He shook his head. “Either it was an extremely desperate Cool, and Cools are rarely desperate, or you asked for it.”
I stared at him, suddenly seeing more of Carve in him. He had the same hairline, a widow’s peak like Camilla. His eyes, while the wrong color, were the same as hers when he glared. If he was right, if I’d asked to forget something, would it be in my best interest to go home without ever remembering, or would it be better to face up to whatever it was that had me so sick, confused and weak?
“Your motives are purely indifferent?”
His mouth twisted in a smile. “No. My motives are purely inconsistent. What I know about you…”
“What? What do you know about me?” It was impossible that this Hybrid would know something about me that I didn’t know myself, inconceivable that he could be allowed to think that he knew me when bits of myself were tied off from me.
He eased off of me, but the earth still held me back. I felt the wind with a shock. How long had it been howling above me? It whipped his hair into his eyes, flapping his loose clothes against his body as he stood, watching me with a calculating stare. Finally, he nodded as though he’d come to some conclusion.
“I know that you corresponded with my brother when you were in school with my sister. I know that the inappropriate contact between a Daughter and Son of White and Red Houses went on for too long. There were entanglements. It ended… badly. Whether you wanted to be blocked from the humiliation of such an end or whether Slide instigated the blocks…” He shrugged, a slight lift of his shoulders to express how little any of it mattered to him.
Of course it didn’t matter if parts of my own mind were held hostage while I charged through my life entirely oblivious while those who knew laughed at me. This Hybrid, a stranger, should not be more aware of my life than I was. It wasn’t only humiliating, but dangerous.
“Tell the ground to let go of me.”
He raised his eyebrow. “Tell the wind to stop whipping me.”
I gritted my teeth, closing my eyes and forcing my body to relax, to allow my struggling muscles to rest in the earth’s embrace. The wind faded to a gentle breeze, caressing my closed eyelids while the smell of dirt reminded me of death, of burial, a memory that had me struggling up, but this time the earth didn’t hold me and I was able to escape from the shallow grave, but the image, my mother’s coffin as my brother’s lowered it into the ground, the smell of death and decay stuck with me.
How had I forgotten my mother’s funeral? It was still only bits, pieces of pain that fit together roughly leaving jagged chunks where pieces of my heart would have been, but it was the tip, the edge of the memories I’d lost.
I stumbled into Matthew, gripping his shoulders to hang on, not only to him but to the memories.
“I want you to take the blocks off of me. You are, without even trying.”
His eyes narrowed as he tilted his head, examining me. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
I pushed him against the trunk of the oak tree. “I need to remember. It’s not safe for me to run around with these huge gaps…”
“Go home. Do it there where you’ll be safe.”
“Under my father’s watchful care? My father who probably put the blocks on me in the first place?” I shook my head. “I would never have wanted to forget my mother, however much it hurt. I have so few pieces of her. I can’t believe that would be my choice. Please, Matthew.” I lifted my hand to push his hair away from his eyes, behind his ear, hesitating over the silky skin.
He swallowed and I realized how close I was, pushing the boundaries of space between us, but I needed him to see, to feel, to understand.
“Go home, Helen. I’ll come later. If the blocks are still there, I’ll remove them then.”
“How am I supposed to get home with Carve and Bliss fighting over Harding’s remains? Are you saying that I can take a cab to the airport and leave right now?”
He smiled slightly. “You might want to get some shoes first.” He shook his head, as if irritated that he’d gotten amused. “No, you can’t leave right away, but taking down your blocks could make you more sick and vulnerable than you are right now. You don’t want that, not when you’re at the mercy of an unstable Hybrid who can’t be trusted.”
I stepped away from him, crossing my arms over my chest, over his shirt. I should go inside, take a shower, wash the dirt off of me then figure out a way to get home. I shouldn’t want to be at his mercy, not when he could mess with my mind already, not when he could lean me, make me aware of him in a way I’d never experienced with a man.
“You want to protect me. Is it because I am weak? Is that how you prefer women to be?”
His laugh startled me, filling me with shivering warmth that made me rub my arms.
“Absolutely. I adore weak women who control the wind and are only rendered vulnerable when fighting blocks that they shouldn’t be able to touch. You will need protection only a few times in your life. Your runes leave you practically indestructible, while I can’t even heal from a small flesh wound without expending days to recuperate. I am the weak one.”
I stared at him, at the musician hands that had held a knife not too long before. I sat on the ground, extending my foot towards him, the one with the glass embedded inside of it. “Cut it out of me.”
He raised an eyebrow as he dropped on his heels, a hand on my ankle, the feeling of his skin a cold shock that faded into numbness. “You trust me with a knife?”
I stared at him, at his eyes that seemed familiar somehow. “I asked you to invade my mind. Apparently I trust you more than anyone else on this continent.”
He frowned. “Even after I leaned you to sleep?” I nodded as he rubbed my ankle and foot. “Have you had breakfast yet?”
I blinked then shook my head. “No. I was waiting for you to show up so I could steal yours.”
He frowned, like that made him nervous but kept touching me, rubbing my ankle so light and delicately that I should barely have noticed it. “I have another sandwich, but you might want something fresh.” He swallowed, shaking his head slightly. “Are you sure you’d like me to remove the glass? I’ve had more experience than I’d like to admit fishing shrapnel out of people, but most Wilds are reluctant to let anyone smell their fresh blood.”
I fought the urge to blush, uncertain why that would embarrass me. “Try not to cut off the whole thing, please. I’m rather attached to that foot.”
He pulled his knife smoothly out of the harness beneath his shirt with the blade touching the skin on my foot, staring at me with something inscrutable in his eyes. “You trust me with your blood?”
I swallowed. “I want you to take off the blocks. My blood isn’t seething with Nether that makes me a target for the few insane… you aren’t a Nether addict, are you?”
My heart pounded as his eyes glimmered.
“No,” he said.
 I exhaled the breath I’d been holding.
“You shouldn’t trust me.”
I nodded. “I know I shouldn’t trust a Hybrid, but since I can’t even trust myself, my own memories…” I took a deep breath, trying to keep the wind from whipping around me. “You haven’t taken advantage of me when you could have, at least,” I added, remembering the dancing, the way he’d held me a little too firmly against his body, “Not much.”
“I’m glad you find that assuring,” he said before he moved the knife quickly, drawing it over my flesh, releasing a trickle of blood while he spread the skin with his fingers, probing inside the gash he’d made with his knife. His fingers moved with assurance, the pain I’d expected nothing more than a distant hum until the chunk of glass emerged. He didn’t stop after the large chunk was out, instead doing a thorough examination of my foot, pulling out a few other slivers.
Finally he pulled back, cleaning his knife in the earth that seemed to lick the blood from his blade while I waited for the pain.
Being a Wild with runes, you become accustomed to pain, accustomed to the compounding of sensation as runes sped the healing. It hurt with a shrieking ache that I’d been trained to endure. Healing hurts more than the accident, but this time, I watched my skin knit itself together, muscles and tendons wrapping over each other until the flap of skin closed, leaving nothing but a pool of blood on the grass beneath me. During the entire process, there wasn’t so much as a breath of pain, nothing but a slight tingling in my foot as the wind whispered its soothing melody to me.
I stared at my foot. “How did you do that? How did you take away the pain?”
“Paralysis, numbness; it’s part of my skill set. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d rather shave Satan’s head for a month than cause you pain.”
“Satan?” I looked up at him, at the way he didn’t quite meet my gaze, like looking at me was as uncomfortable for him as it was for me. “You have gifts with nerves and a bond with the earth?” I shook my head and felt a flutter in my stomach. “How did you get more than one skill?”
“You don’t want to know. It wasn’t pretty.”
“You took it from someone?” He nodded, still not looking at me. “You killed someone for their ability?”
“I killed someone to fulfill my duty to Carve. Taking the skill was an unexpected, unasked for ‘bonus’.” He glared at me, as if daring me to judge him. “My father enjoys experiments in human nature.” He stood up, slipping his blade back into its sheath, on his back beneath his shirt. “As fun as this has been, I’m here to rejuvenate, not to chat.” He glared at me, his arms crossed over his chest.
“Rejuvenate?” I noticed the way he leaned against the tree, as if he were tired, but the exhaustion didn’t show through the scowl on his face. I crossed my arms over my chest, giving him a condescending look my grandmother would have been proud of. “By all means, go ahead.”
He gave a slight shake of his head. “Your blood is pooled on the ground.”
“It smells of violets and wind.” He examined his fingertips where they were stained red from my blood. He sniffed, cautiously at first then with a long inhalation that I thought would never end while my heart pounded.
“Exquisite bouquet,” he murmured, just loud enough for me to hear. “Sweet with Nether, but with something else, an undercurrent of something…”
I felt dizzy, weak, like he was inside my veins, stirring things around, things that pulsed with pain but were too rich to turn away from. The smell of blood, the taste of my own blood in my mouth…
I grabbed his arm. “It’s another memory, isn’t it? Something about my blood? What stupid thing did I try to do? Was I reckless enough to try and blood bind myself to Jarvais? Is that what you’re saying?” I felt a wave of pain as I struggled to breathe, to hang onto him when his face came from further and further away.

If you want to read something else in this world try House of Slide, Hotblood or House of Slide, Hybrid. If you're in the mood for Pride and Prejudice, only with mermaids, tryWatergirl. Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

Monday, September 23, 2013

House of Slide, Wild, Chapter 4

I would probably have walked out the front door at the bottom of the stairs, around the couple still in the same position, if I’d had my shoes and jacket. It was either wander the streets barefoot and bare armed or go back through the charmingly repulsive kitchen and into the yard. The sound, the laughter and music felt like an assault as I stood on the steps with my stomach churning.
I’d come so far, only to fail.
This time the Hybrid musician, Matthew, stayed on the stage where he performed, not seeming to see me as he lost himself in his music. I had no idea where my jacket or shoes were. I wandered through people, trying not to look as sick and abandoned as I felt, searching the crowd for Camilla. She would have known that this was my brother’s wedding party. I couldn’t decide if I were more angry or grateful at her for bringing me there to face Saturn.
Eventually, I found myself edging away from the crowd until I stood beneath the cover of the oak tree. No shoes, no discarded branches, there was nothing but the bark against my back as I slid down the trunk to sit with my feet tucked under me, watching the musicians in the distance.
The Hybrid, Matthew, stood in the front, staring down at his guitar while his fingers flew over the frets. The intro wasn’t really my thing, too current and slightly pretentious, but when he began to sing with a voice that was more compelling than before, I felt a tug in my chest as the emotion he expressed touched a chord in me. People turned to the stage as he sang a song I’d never heard before. The laughter, the loud talking fading away as the Hybrid caught their attention and held it. It wasn’t a sad song, not exactly, but it was certainly bittersweet, about holding on and letting go, not enough, and too late, not my kind of thing, but then again, why did I want to leave my place beneath the tree and stand with the others staring up at him at the edge of the scaffolding? Maybe if I was lucky he’d grace me with a drop of sweat. I smiled, mockingly at myself for being as easily drawn in as everyone else. That explained everything I’d felt. It was humiliating to think that I was vulnerable to the machinations of a Hybrid, but apparently I needed more exposure to that kind of thing.
“I’d like to apologize,” a Wild with brown hair and brown eyes said, startling me as he dropped onto his heels beside me. “I’m Odin.” He held a hand out to me which I looked at without taking. He dropped his hand looking unoffended. “Camilla told me you were here. She didn’t say why she brought you, but my cousin isn’t exactly the clearest Wild to read.”
“Cousin? So, this is your house.” It amazed me that Camilla had been forthcoming about something.
He shrugged. “I’m the landlord but I rent it out to Hunters. I don’t actually live here. My place is much finer, under the jurisdiction of Carve, but of course this place is neutral. Hunters are, you know.”
I nodded slightly.
“Do you want me to get you a chair?” he asked politely.
“I’m comfortable, thank-you.” I stared at him, as pointedly as I could, hoping that he’d take the hint like a good Wild and leave me alone. He didn’t go though.
“Are you really Matthew’s date?”
I fought the urge to grind my teeth. Either I confess that I fainted, or allow him to think that I would stoop to dating an unaffiliated Hybrid when I could have my pick of nice Wild boys.
“If I were, would that be a problem?” Technically I had agreed to date him. Everyone had seen us dancing together, also him dancing rather obscenely with the tree that looked like me.
“No,” he said slowly. “But when he told me that you were, I could hardly believe it. Daughter’s of Houses don’t usually mingle with Hunters, particularly ones who are not known for their social graces. It’s almost as surprising to see him making himself agreeable to any woman as it is to see you enduring such attentions. Perhaps he’s finally exhibiting dangerous characteristics of his Hybrid nature. If it happens here there will be enough people to stop him before he does damage.” His tone was condescendingly confidential.
My headache grew the longer he talked until I turned, focusing on the stage and Matthew where he sang with so much energy and emotion in his voice. His fingers flew, rhythmically as he stroked his guitar, crooning to it as though it were his long lost love, reminding me of how he’d looked dancing with the branch dressed in my image.
“Does he never sing like that either?” I asked, nodding at the stage.
Odin followed my glance then frowned slightly as a particularly voluble Hotblood girl called out Matthew’s name. “No, when he performs it’s always like this. It was the dancing and the smiling that was unusual. I think there were wagers about whether or not he knew how to dance.”
“Did you lose?”
I saw a brief flicker of a scowl before he stood up. “That’s beside the point. It’s a pleasure to have you here, Miss Slide. If there’s anything you need, please let me know.”
It was a relief to see him leave. I tried not to collapse against the tree as my head pounded. When I glanced towards the house, the deck, I saw Saturn embracing the Hotblood girl, Cami, careless of who saw them devour each other. I should have looked away. I meant to, but seeing my brother like that, with his hands gripped on her hair and dress, molding her body to his while his mouth pressed against hers in a kiss that went on forever, transfixed me. He held onto her so desperately, as though she were his air, his life, his House. I dug my fingers in the dirt while an unbidden wind rustled the leaves above me. I couldn’t let these emotions control me, make me weak. I wasn’t going to think about my failure, about my former brother.
I focused on the stage, felt Matthew’s eyes on me, although how he could see me across the yard where I was in the shadows, I wasn’t sure. The look wasn’t anything leering or come-hither and neither was the nod. It was an, ‘I’ve got your jacket and shoes so wait there for me,” kind of nod. I nodded back, the slightest tilt of my chin to show that I would wait, but I wouldn’t like it.
When the song ended and women were howling for more, remarkably animalistic howls, I watched him climb down from the scaffolding all loose joints and long limbs. A girl reached out and touched him then fell over in a faint. The other girls pulled back, just out of reach except for one other whose hand grazed his jaw right before she collapsed.
I stared at him, feeling my heart pound. Was he the reason I’d felt so nauseous and dizzy? Had he made me faint? Was there something about him that was so overwhelming that his very presence could make you physically sick? If so, did he do that to me intentionally?
He didn’t come straight towards me, instead disappearing into the shadows. After only a few moments, his voice came out of the darkness behind me. “You’re still here,” he said in compelling voice. “Let’s get your jacket,” he added.
“I’m not sure if I can handle being in your presence without fainting,” I murmured. “Maybe I’m better off getting a new jacket.” How could I not have realized that he was as manipulative as a Wild?
“Fainting?” He sounded confused. I turned around and enjoyed seeing his eyebrows furrowed together in a scowl as he that was really quite impressive. “Not fainting. That,” he said nodding towards a girl who’d been thrown over another girl’s shoulder, “Is paralysis.”
I studied the limbs where they stuck out. “That explains why she looks so stiff.” Satan had mentioned paralyzing, not fainting. So why did I still feel so sick? “I suppose I’m lucky you didn’t do that to me.”
He sighed loud enough that I turned to look at him. “So that’s where we are? And here I thought you trusted me.” His voice had a cutting edge while his gray eyes mocked me. “I’m a touchy Hybrid. What else do you expect? I wouldn’t paralyze someone I asked to dance. That would be rude.”
His Hybrid features didn’t seem as out of place anymore, even knowing that was what had bothered me at first glance. I’d apparently become accustomed to it. A wave of dizziness made me glad that I could lean against the tree, taking deep breaths until everything came back into focus.
“I see. Well, one can’t be a rude and touchy Hybrid, can one? I’m wondering what other behaviors you’d find unforgivably rude. I had no idea there was so much to know about Hybrids. I suppose I should thank you for getting my brother’s attention. He found it impossible to leave after he saw us dancing, since he had to ‘save’ me from you. Why did you do that? You’ll probably pay dearly for intruding on Slide business.”
“It’s not Slide business, because he’s no longer Son.”
I gasped as the quiet words cracked through my mind. I opened my mouth to deny it, but he was right. Saturn was no longer Son. He had abandoned his House, his duty, me. I was the next in line as Daughter of the House. I was the one who would take the burden of duty that Saturn had carried. When my father retired or died the House would be mine to maintain. I would be left with the impossible choices of which lives to spare, and which to end for the good of the House. My mind reeled while the night became too close, not enough air to breathe. I couldn’t do anything but stare at the Hybrid while my world fell apart.
“No.” I jabbed a finger into his chest, shocked when the feeling of his muscle and tissue beneath my finger felt warmer than before and damp with sweat. I pulled away, clenching my fists while I tried to breathe normally. “Why would you dance with me if not to interfere with Slide?”
“Is that why you’re here, Slide business? I find it hard to believe that Slide would send you here without an entourage, without giving you specific instructions on how to find him and what to do with him when you did. That isn’t the way Houses operate. Satan made his choice, the House responded by cutting him off, that’s it. There are no last ditch efforts to persuade him to change his mind. Wilds don’t change their minds, do they?”
“What do you know about Wild Houses?”
“A lot more than you know about Hybrids.” He sighed and ran his hand through his hair. What would the hair of a Wild/Cool Hybrid feel like against my fingers? Why would an idiotic thought like that creep in when I was still trying to get my breathing under control.
“My brother,” I said with my voice like ice, “Will always be related to me even if I have to put a dagger through his right eye. I don’t care if that’s Wild or not.”
He stared down at me in silence, just looking at me until he raised an eyebrow. “You are chilly. Your jacket is right this way.” He turned and walked deeper into the shadows.
“Maybe I’ll wait for you to bring it back,” I said even as I followed him, stumbling over my own feet.
“You’re listening to your brother’s warnings? Probably a good idea.”
“He said that you can slip into my thoughts and make me do anything you wanted. Is that true?”
He laughed, a dry brittle sound. “No. He’s bitter because I wouldn’t let him die when I met him a few years ago. I encouraged the side of his nature that wanted to stay alive. I never created something new in him. I can’t do that. He doesn’t like to admit that he was indecisive about his self-destruction. Your brother is remarkably indecisive.”
He’d saved my brother? I felt a rush of confused gratitude. When had Saturn been suicidal? I shoved away the idea of owing this Hybrid for my brother’s life, particularly when he drawled mockingly every time he said, ‘your brother’. “But you could encourage the part of me that wants to touch you until that’s all I think about?”
He stopped, turning to look at me. I couldn’t see much of his face in the shadows, but I felt his eyes on me. “The part of you that wants to touch me…” His voice was suggestive and I remembered the feel of his arms around me as I blushed.  
I ignored the goose-bumps his voice sent down my spine, reminding myself that it had nothing to do with me personally. He voice enticed everyone. “I’m a female, and apparently you cause that reaction. You hadn’t noticed the girls who risked paralysis to touch you? Why is it that you cause such female havoc when every other Cool I’ve met does the opposite?” I could almost breathe naturally when I thought about him, about his strange Hybrid abilities instead of my brother.
He turned away from me with a careless shrug. “Maybe it’s the Wild in me, my physical side.”
“You might want to learn to control it.”
“Men always want women to find them irresistible.”
“Not Cool ones.”
“I thought you were waiting for me to bring your jacket to you.”
“Apparently I can’t resist following you. Maybe I’ll get lucky and you’ll paralyze me.”
He shook his head as he said, “I would never paralyze a friend of Camilla’s.”
Was that tugging in my stomach jealousy? What did I care what he thought or didn’t think about Camilla? “Why not? Do you fear or admire her?” I sounded jealous but maybe that was natural. Maybe every woman who heard his voice, heard him sing, had his Cool hands touching their skin and making every nerve respond would feel jealous.
He stopped at a gate in the fence that I hadn’t noticed. He unlocked it with a quick twist of his key before swinging it open and gesturing me through. “Neither. It’s simply that Camilla has so few female friends, you’re as rare, in your own way, as I am.” He followed me into an alley that was suddenly quiet and much darker than the shadows of the yard had been. He walked past me, kicking a tin can over the bricks. “You have a lot of questions.”
“You keep answering them. It’s surprisingly addictive.”
He laughed, a sound that was nothing like I expected. He was Cool and the voice, the singing were all incredibly enticing, but the laugh was an awkward and normal sound, so why did it make me want to laugh with him? “All right,” he said as he fumbled in the dark until he turned on the headlight of a motorbike. “I have a question for you. Would you like some tea?” The light reflected off a pale wall giving him light as he rummaged through the pack on the back of the bike. He handed me my jacket and shoes which I held for a moment before I put them on.
“I’m half Wild, half Cool. Unfortunately that means I’m always cold, so I keep a thermos handy.” He smiled at me as he held up the silver themos he’d pulled from the pack then opened it while he leaned against the seat of the bike.
“That’s interesting.”
“Isn’t it? Maybe I should find an obsessed Wild who can make me, the Hybrid, the object of their study.”
“We could start analyzing exactly why you’d bother saving the life of my brother, a random Wild, move on to why you would ask me to dance then finish with why you feel justified in paralyzing random fans.”
He sniffed the contents that I could already smell from where I was standing. Peppermint and lemon wafted through the air. “I can feel your brother’s pain. I had a mother once.” He took a deep breath then exhaled. “You wouldn’t believe how tedious it gets being assaulted by Hotbloods. I’m sure they mean well, at least some of them, but if you’re not interested it’s better for everyone if you make sure they understand up front. Well, would you like some?” He poured the tea into the attached cup then handed it to me, as though he took my silence for assent.
I took it and shivered as the warmth seeped through my fingertips. Even if I didn’t drink it, smelling and feeling was enough. It should have been safe since the ingredients that would immobilize me were neutralized in anything too hot. That was one of the reasons tea was so popular with Wilds.
“You didn’t tell me why you asked me to dance with you, or why you asked me to be your date. Obviously you don’t have a hard time finding girls who are interested.”
“Obviously. What sort of answer do you want? I’m a Hybrid and my reasons for acting aren’t always clear, even to me. Camilla brought you here and abandoned you to the lions. Maybe I felt it was my responsibility to intervene on your behalf, then again, maybe I thought it would be interesting to meet a White Daughter. Maybe I wanted to dance with you.”
I rested my lips on the rim of the cup as I inhaled. Every time he said Camilla’s name I wanted to snarl. Who knew jealousy would be so visceral.
“Why would you want to dance with me?”
He sighed exasperatedly. “You’re beautiful. That would be enough reason for most men.”
“You already confessed that you find skin deep beauty unappealing.”
He smiled at me with a glint in his eye. “You’re attributing depth to my character? I’m flattered.”
I rolled my eyes more irritated with myself than anything. Had I actually expected a direct approach to work? “Is it true that you have no moral compunctions about doing anything you like to anyone you meet?” I asked then took a sip of tea.
When I looked up he was studying me with a look of deep concentration. “Maybe, but lucky for you, I don’t like very many things. Your brother is throwing away his position as Son of Slide. It makes me doubt that our definitions about morality or compunctions would be remotely similar.”
“You don’t think he’s doing the right thing? But he loves her.” I couldn’t help the scorn that came out in my voice. Love passed, but duty was eternal.
He shrugged. “If you’re looking for a reason to lose your heritage, passion makes a charming distraction. The right thing? I’m a Hybrid, love. He’s sentencing his children to the life of an outcast like me. How could love that bore such fruits be anything other than divine? I’m wired, programmed to need the structure of a House. Being outside of that is constant torment. Your brother, however, enjoys self-inflicted torment, so why wouldn’t his children, as well?”
I was speechless as my heart pounded in my chest. I could feel his pain. It filled the air between us like a whip that singed my soul. I felt sick, lightheaded as I thought of my brother, of the end to the path he’d chosen.
It couldn’t be like that, not for my brother. I shook my head while I gripped the cup hard enough that I felt the metal begin to bow in. I took another sip of tea, glad to focus on the heat. I didn’t want to hear that. I wanted to pretend that he’d be fine, that he’d escape the consequences of the choice he’d made that I could do nothing about. 
“What’s she like?” I asked, changing the subject.
“Cami?” He took a sip of tea. “You’ve seen her. She’s loyal, fierce, never complains, and of course is madly in love with your brother.” I hated how sarcastic he sounded when he talked about their love.
“Do you know how they met?” I leaned on the motorcycle beside him careful to keep my distance. I felt more exhausted with every second that passed. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a full night’s sleep, not since Saturn had disappeared at least. Finding him, seeing that my effort was a waste was more exhausting than a round of runes. The tea seemed to help with the nausea, but it made me more tired.
“Your brother was supposed to escort a lovely Daughter meant to be his Intended, to get to know her and offer her his blade, but Cami was along for the ride being transported to another Girl’s Home where she could learn to burn a little more safely. The Daughter wasn’t as interesting to him as Cami. Somehow she talked your brother into helping her escape to the wilderness, taking her to Jayden to hunt demons.” He shrugged then tilted the thermos to fill my cup back up. “That was a long time ago. She’s been angling for him ever since. If your brother didn’t keep the Code they could have had a brief affair and he could have gotten her out of his system then returned to his duties.”
I gasped. You didn’t talk about breaking the Code as though it were a whimsical ideal instead of a necessary protection from demonic taint. “The Code probably kept her alive. You mean that my brother was dragging around an unstable Hotblood killing demons?” I shivered as I clenched fingers around the cup. “There’s a reason they lock people up while they’re learning to burn steady.”
He laughed, a low sound that was still shockingly normal. “There’s always a reason to lock people up, don’t you think, beautiful? Enough of their incredibly romantic tale of forbidden love. Do you want a sandwich, darling?”
He held a cellophane wrapped package out to me which I took reluctantly. When I bit in, the tastes and textures were complicated and not quite complimentary, but apparently I hadn’t eaten enough in the past weeks because I consumed it like a Hotblood. He dug around in his bag with one hand while I eyed the sandwich in his other. I didn’t like him calling me love, beautiful, or darling. It reminded me of Camilla. Maybe he was a male version of her, burning every girl he met with seduction as sport. 
“I’m sorry,” I said at the same time he pulled another one out. “I’m not used to being fed by complete strangers, my sweet.” I took it anyway, eating it distractedly as I thought about a girl who thought it would be fun to run around after demons. I could see how my brother would find that interesting, irresistible actually. There was nothing he liked better than blowing stuff up. I’d had many lessons about explosives my father never knew about when I’d go to the summer home with my brothers, learning to fight and the importance of stealth during covert operations. It had all been games though. I’d never actually fought demons or anything else besides the trainers brought in to teach me everything I might need to know.  
“Don’t worry about it, you’re a natural. Look,” he said standing and stashing the thermos back in his bag before he turned to face me, moving close before he brushed my face with his fingers. The tips were callused, rough, but the texture fascinated instead of repulsed me. “You’re tired and you don’t want to find a hotel. You’d really like to take my room here, the one I never use and get a good night’s sleep before you get on a plane in the morning to go back home where you belong.”
He pressed a key in my hand that I took, as I stared at him, still feeling the lingering touch on my face. I opened my mouth to protest, but the only thing that came out was a yawn.
“You need to rest, to forget about everything you’ve ever worried about and enjoy the Egyptian cotton sheets. Rest well, my ecstasy,” he said, nudging me towards the gate.
I glanced back at him even as my feet carried me away. I wanted to protest being called ecstasy, but I couldn’t see much expression on his face in the dark, even with the reflected light. I was so tired and dizzy that I could barely cross the back yard, through the kitchen and past the couple on the stairs who were maybe automated statues because they hadn’t moved the entire time I’d been there, to the third door on the second floor, where my key clicked in the lock, opening into a cocoon of white bedding and glossy green plants.
I locked the door behind me, slithered out of my clothes and into the bed, noticing that the sheets were incredibly delicious before I passed into slumber.

If you want to read something else in this world try House of Slide, Hotblood or House of Slide, Hybrid. If you're in the mood for Pride and Prejudice, only with mermaids, try Watergirl. Thanks for stopping by and happy reading!

Monday, September 16, 2013

House of Slide, Wilds: Chapter 3

He looked less than happy to see me. Of course, blood and champagne were running down his bald head and into his eyes so I couldn’t really blame him.
“What happened to your hair?” I demanded at the same time he grabbed my elbow, dragging me through people who moved away from us, some lifting glasses in giddy cheers. I would have struggled to get away from him except that would defeat the purpose of all that time spent trying to find him. If he was hanging onto me then I wouldn’t have to hang onto him. He didn’t say anything until we’d gone inside, through the sound guard that left the party and music a world away from us. He marched me down the hall, throwing open a door that revealed a small but quite pleasant study with green leather furniture and bright white paint.
He propelled me into a chair, pushing his enormous weight down on my shoulders as though he didn’t believe I’d stay there before he folded his arms across his chest exactly the same as the Bloodworker had done earlier. It was too bad that the blood and champagne ruined his fierce scowl.
“What are you doing here?”
I blinked at him, startled at the question. Was he an idiot? Did he think I’d come all this way to dance with the Cool that he apparently didn’t like? I sat up in my chair while I fixed him with a polite smile. “It’s nice to see you, too. I could ask you the same question. What are you doing here other than throwing drinks at perfectly nice musicians? I’d thought you were raised better than that.” I lifted my eyebrow while I channeled the infinite disdain of my grandmother.
“Perfectly nice? That…” He sputtered for a moment, clearly overcome by my counterattack.
“As the only male who asked me to dance, yes, I’d say perfectly nice.” I wasn’t about to reveal my irrational anger at seeing him dance with a tree. “I don’t understand you hemorrhaging about whoever I danced with. You’re still bleeding. Maybe I should get a towel.”
He wiped his hand over his head distractedly. “It’s fine.” He picked a chunk of glass out, and I watched a large drop of blood drip onto the dark floor. I blinked at that clumsiness—that he’d sprinkle his blood around so carelessly. 
“I didn’t mean to break it over your head,” I said, half an apology, rising from my chair to do something about the blood, but he shoved me back down, leaving a smear of blood on my shoulder, but at least not staining my camisole.
“The last time you ‘accidentally’ broke something over my head…”
“You’re going to say you didn’t deserve it for…” I trailed off, studying my hands in my lap. This was not going any of the multiple ways I’d planned for finding my brother. I couldn’t remind him of that time after mother died, right before the first time he’d left the House to go Hunting. I had to remind him why he wanted to stay with the House, to come back.
“Helen,” he said quietly, sitting down across from me. “This isn’t a safe party for you, in fact, I don’t think there’s anywhere in this country that’s going to be safe right now.”
I fought down the urge to argue that I could take care of myself because I needed him to feel like I couldn’t take care of myself, that I needed him to come back with me, to be part of the House even if it did feel broken without my mother. “Maybe not,” I said slowly. “But it’s not safe anywhere, is it? No matter where we go, or what we do, we can’t escape death.” I reached out and put a hand over his where he had a clenched fist on his knee. I hoped this worked. I’d tried to understand why he’d left, why he’d finally not come back. I think it was the realization that it was all a lie. The runes, the power, the security didn’t matter, because however long you lived it wasn’t going to be forever, and what else was enough when it came to someone you couldn’t live without? I felt a pang in my chest that made it hard to breathe.
“Well,” he said, putting my hands back on my lap. “Maybe you’re going to die, but you don’t have to run into the arms of the first unstable Hybrid you come across.” Hybrid? What was he talking about? The Cool musician, had he lied to me about being Cool? No, because he’d never specifically said that he was Cool, only referred to their tendencies. I stiffened in my chair as I mentally reviewed our conversation. I’d danced with a Hybrid? I’d been vulnerable and trusting of someone who could lose control at any moment? I blinked Saturn back into focus.  
“It says something about a party that the most pleasant person there is a Hybrid. What are you doing at a wedding party anyway?” I was proud of how steady my voice came out because even though he’d ended up being trustworthy, pointing me in my brother’s direction unlike all the other Hotblood’s I’d tried to deal with, the idea of dancing so close to a Hybrid, the reality that I hadn’t even known what he was or why he’d singled me out disturbed me.
He glared at me, cracking his knuckles before he cleared his throat. “It’s my wedding party.” In the silence after those words I listened to the clock, ticking loudly in the corner of the room.
It couldn’t be true. They’d said it was a Hotblood’s wedding party, a Hotblood, nothing about a Wild. Camilla, somebody would have mentioned the Wild. It explained why there were so many Wilds, though. The idea of my brother marrying a Hotblood, of having Hybrid children who would manifest unknown traits, most of which would get the child killed, chilled me. There were enough unpleasant ways to watch the people you loved die.
“Well.” I stared at him, at his bald head and the unlit cigar still in his teeth. “I can’t say it’s agreed with you, marriage, I mean. Congratulations.” My voice was empty of emotion. I stood up, smoothing down my skirt. “I’d better not take you away from your guests any more than I already have.”
I was half across the room when he snorted, taking the cigar out of his mouth and rolling it between his fingers. “You’ll never understand.”
That stopped me. Of course I’d never understand how he could turn away from his family whatever the reason. Losing mother had made it clear how precious every member was to the whole. The House without Saturn would leave another gaping wound.
I slowly turned around. “Saturn, you’re right. I don’t understand. You didn’t invite me to your wedding, and when I stumble onto it, instead of coming to meet me, you try to kill my date. I don’t know you at all.”
“Date? You’re Matthew’s date?” His face turned this weird reddish purple color while his eyes which were too large in the first place got even bigger. “You didn’t even know he was a Hybrid. You’re dating someone who could paralyze you with the touch of his fingers, slip into your thoughts and make you do anything, can read every intention you have. He has no moral inhibitions about using his gifts against anyone. I’m supposed to sit back and let a filthy Hybrid sully my sister’s reputation?” That last bit came out a roar. Apparently he’d been spending too much time in the company of Hotbloods if he couldn’t have a civilized argument without raising his voice. It was all about inflection.
I crossed my arms over my chest before I realized I was copying his pose. “Your hypocrisy is incredibly annoying. You can marry a Hotblood girl and that’s just fine, but heaven forbid if I, someone you’re no longer even willing to be related to dances with a Hybrid. Would you prefer I take up with the Bloodworker I ran into?”
“Anyone, anything would be better than a Hybrid. You can’t trust them. Who knows why they do anything? Bloodworkers can be trusted to hate Wilds. I’d thought Matthew hated everyone, but apparently he gets some sick thrill out of putting his filthy hands on my sister.”
“Your concern is touching, or it would be if you hadn’t decided to cut all affiliations with my House. My safety is no longer your business. I don’t know which bothers you more, if I danced with someone in appropriate or that I enjoyed it, but either way, I’ll dance with every Hybrid, Hotblood, and Bloodworker I want, and you can’t stop me.” My voice rang as clearly as his did.
I ran across the room, yanking the door open. The Hotblood in the green dress tumbled in. She looked slightly guilty while I stared at her, realizing that this was no doubt the Hotblood Saturn had abandoned the House for.
“Congratulations. I wish you every happiness.” I tried to push past her but her hand gripped my arm.
“Are you leaving so soon?”  She sounded sincerely disappointed, a complete revolution from the way she’d talked to me outside, when she must have known who I was and what I wanted. Now I wanted to rip her auburn hair out by the roots.
“Not right away,” I said reassuringly, forcing a smile at her. “I have to get back to my date before he leaves me for a tree.” I glanced back over my shoulder at my brother, well, the man who used to be my brother, before I slipped past the girl who had destroyed his future.

If you'd like to read something else from House of Slide, Here's the link for Hotblood  and Hybrid  Also, my lighter YA paranormal, Watergirl

Thanks for stopping by! See you next week for another installment.