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
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.
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!
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!