You may have noticed I haven't posted much lately. That's because much of my writing energy has been redirected into another attempt at a novel, once again far more complicated than it needs to be. This one is extra challenging, because it's an attempt to save a novel from when I was 12. :D Should be fun!
If you have any interest in reading it, I'd posted it below. It's also on DeviantArt, so you can get updates when I write a new one, here: http://diglette.deviantart.com/art/Ankhfire-Chapter-01-380500082?ga_submit_new=10%253A1372133123
Also, I have the song here. Yes, that's me singing.
The trees around her are hungry demons in the night. She has never been this deep into the forest - for all of her pride and the courage she strives for, the Forest Deeps are too dangerous. Always dangerous, but never like this. Fear is like a living thing within her, coiling and writhing in her stomach and through her veins. A pulse beats hard, suffocating and frantic in her throat. Whatever she found pride in before, she is prey now - a rabbit before woves. Little light penetrates the boughs of the massive, craggy oaks above, but here and there a shaft of moonlight lances through the softer shadow. Beacons of flase hope in a place and time where none exists. Her breath seems too loud, echoing back at her harshly in the bitter darkness.
Time to move again. They can not be far behind. Fear lends her strength, and she tightens her grip on the smaller woman's legs, her aching, exhausted legs carrying them both deeper into the night. "How could I have let this happen?" she mouths, neither daring nor able to make a sound and she trots across the unstable, treacherous forest floor, thick with mast, and roots, and fear.
"My winter lady scolds, she scolds
and sends me to my bed
but the sun is high and calling me
roads are waiting to be tread!"
Music rises above the autumnal trees of the forest in a slow, smooth voice, deep for a woman, but sweet all the same. It's a cheery song, but has a somewhat martial tone, less because of its composer's intent and more because the voice that bears it is slightly strained with effort and the sound is punctuated by the dull echoes of metal meeting wood.
Thunk. Thunk. Thunk.
The chips fly, thick and wedge-shaped, from the middling-sized oak tree that lays across the blue-gray, white, and tan river stone paved path to the small wooden cottage. Rhelle works steadily, feeling sweat move across her skin, tickled by an errant breeze, as her hands grasp firmly the varnished ash handle of the slightly pitted black hatchet. It slides downward to further darken the forest-green tunic she wears belted over her black leggings and solid leather boots. The well-used blade catches the light from the sinking sun and flashes it back merrily as she swings.
"Will you come and dance with me
Merry lady, in the snow?
Will you wear an icy crown and laugh
As the wind growls deep and low?"
The tree is mostly in pieces now. The branches have been cut off and cut into manageable bits. The trunk itself is being reduced to chunks just small around to get her arms all the way around and perhaps an arm’s length long. She’ll split them later. Even the bark will be stripped for kindling. She stops for a minute to look around her as a thin crack announces the severing of another length of trunk, leaving only one more cut to make.
Winter is coming. She can smell it in the air around her, feel it in the crunch of red and yellow maple and oak leaves under her feet, feel it day by day as the billions of complex, interwoven strands of fire energy streaming from the sun, invisible, became subtly longer, thinner, and weaker. Winter is coming, but Rhelle and her small household of two are prepared. She might not need the wood – the wood pile is quite large enough to last through most winters – but why let it go to waste when it has fallen so conveniently across her path?
She worries that it might be a sign. This is the second oak tree to fall this week, neither with discernible cause. Oak is a hard wood. It doesn’t catch fire easily, but it holds a flame for a long time, and burns hot and bright. Though she is not a god-speaker, this is not a hard sign to interpret. Reinforce your walls, raise your wood piles, and store extra food. This winter will be hard and long. Oak is protective, and in that capacity, often warns of danger. The long, bitter months ahead are dangerous enough for anyone, living this far from town.
She shakes her head slightly, feeling her shoulder-length mass of sun-streaked red curls bounce and settle against her ears and neck. Focus, Rhelle, or you won’t have this job done by sun-fall. There are still two cows to milk and a half-crazy tabby cat to bring in. She picks up her hatchet again, starting on the last cut.
Thunk. Thunk. The hatchet's blade bites enthusiastically into the hard wood, and every few swings she turns the log with her foot so that the cut is an ever-deepening circle around the log. She takes up her song again, cheerful in the face of honest labor to be done. She's always happiest when there's work to be done, and it's work she knows exactly how to do. Sitting still doesn't suit her. With a crack, the log splits in the center, and she straightens, sliding the smooth, slightly sweaty handle of the hatchet through a loop in the leather belt bisecting the deep green cotton tunic she wears.
A glance shows that the shadows are lengthening. Sunfall approaches, and when it comes, it will wake mankind's only true predator. When the night comes, vampires come with it.
She swallows a tickle of nerves in her throat and deliberately sings a a little louder to prove that she isn't afraid. This is my home, she thinks fiercely, and yanks on the slightly prickly ends of several body-length branches with more force than necessary.
The chores takes less time than she expected, and before too long, she's two buckets of milk the richer and her heart is light. The barn the cows live in is attached to the house, but there's no door directly between them. Two entrances might have weakened the threshold. The failing sun pours light through several panes of glass embedded in the roof of the barn. No creature of the night can hide safely within while the sun is up. She heads for the front door.
The sky is just beginning to glow with sunfall's glory as Rhelle strides across her small home's dark wood threshold, feeling a small weight of anxiety lift from her relatively broad shoulders. A heavy milk pail swings just slightly in her grasp, its metal surface gleaming brightly in the yellow light of the candles Lunira has already lit on either side of the doorway. A hopeful cat trails after the bucket, tabby fur rippling as he keeps pace. A plaintive mrrtt issues from him in a bid for pity. The yearning in his posture is clear.
She pauses to smile at a willowy young woman with shining black hair cascading around her pale, freckled face. "Lunira," she greets the woman with love and warmth in her voice as she kicks off her boots and hooks a foot around the door to pull it shut. She heads for the kitchen to put the milk on the table. Her wife will want it for the pancakes she promised to make tonight, as she does every full moon. Some superstition she brought with her from her birthplace far to the west.
Lunira's initial good-humored grin flashes brightly on her face and then vanishes, chased away by an entirely different emotion. Sparks fly in her eyes, chips of ice in her golden-brown regard. "Cut it a little close there, didn't you?" Her voice is sharp and cutting, and Rhelle starts in surprise. The smaller woman's eyebrows draw together with reproach. "What if there had been something waiting for dark out there? Even the old ones will risk twilight for careless blood, you know!" She follows her lover into the kitchen, scolding like a mother hen.
Rhelle's gray-green eyes widen with mock surprise, and her work-roughened hands fly up to her neck as if to ensure it is still intact. She ostentatiously checks the pulse under the corner of her jawline and sighs in comical relief. "No, I think I'm safe. I must have been too tough and stringy for their tastes. Or maybe it was that they only come out at night. As in past the first hint of sunfall."
"What if one had bitten you? I saw a female hiding under the eaves, behind the woodpile. It could have gotten you." Spots of angry color rose to Lunira's pale cheeks as her eyes snapped and flashed with ire, trying to snatch the pail of milk from her lover. "Then what? They don't let go of the ones they've marked!"
Rhelle dodged with a smile, snatching a small blue porcelain bowl from a shelf and pouring milk in it for Fearsome. The silly creature dances and mews happily as she places it on the floor for him. The name is a joke. Fearsome has to be the worst hunter either of them has ever seen, and that includes his far lazier black and white predecessor.
"I know you wanted to make pancakes, and we're running short on butter, but you can spare a little, yes?" She laughs, waiting for Lunira to roll her eyes and flap a hand at her. Unfortunately, the taller, dark-haired woman seems determined to get her point across and refuses to relent. Making another bid for the pail, more successfully this time, she marches up to Rhelle, her expression flat and unamused. As she turns to put it by the cutting board of dark, much-abused wood, her yellow dress swirls around her ankles, and Rhelle snags her around her slender waist to kiss one pale, exposed shoulder. "Hey. If I'd been bitten, they'd have had a hell of a fight. I don't like the bloodsuckers any better than you do."
"And then what?" Lunira pulls away, her voice not raised above a whisper this time. In the dead silence, it is loud enough. She pulls away, head down, and goes on without waiting for an answer. "Then I'd be waiting by the door, not even daring to go look for you, waiting for someone won't be coming home. Then all I would be able to do is wonder." She seems to tremble slightly with emotion: fear, relief, loathing for the dread creatures that keep mankind caged when the sun is down. Rhelle isn't sure. Her quiet voice is fragile. "Did they drain you, allowing you to die in peace, before feeding your body to their wolves? Did they imprison you? Are you being tortured? Will you be tortured for the rest of your life, just for giving them a 'hell of a fight,' or even just for fun? Or gods all forbid, did they carry you to the dark river and make you one of them forever?"
Her words ring in the hushed room, like the bell-toll of the white angels of death. A shining diamond drops, shimmering in the dying light still streaming from outside before darkening a tiny circle on the cobbled stone floor. Lunira is weeping as she spells out the fear they live with every single night, the fear every man and woman alive lives with, though it is not often commented on, or even thought of. Rhelle closes the distance again, embracing her wife, and this time Lunira allows it, and the tension melts.
"Why are you so afraid, dear heart?" she murmurs into a shining mass of dark hair.
"Who says I'm afraid?" The brave question is belied by the way her voice breaks on the last word. "I just don't want anything to happen to you." She twists and captures Rhelle's startled mouth with her own, and the two hold each other close as the kiss deepens.
Breathless moments pass and Rhelle breaks away, her eyes glinting with mischief. "I can think of something I want to happen to me." Her wife's answering smile was a sweet, loving, and sad. The older woman opens her mouth to ask why, but is distracted as a yellow dress falls to the floor with a muffled thump and she is pulled eagerly toward the open door to their small bedroom, across the sitting room from the kitchen.
They return to the kitchen an hour later, both of them hungry and slightly sweaty, and somehow, Rhelle has forgotten all about the argument, and the strange look of sorrow at its close.
The moon changed its form as he retreated from his earthly lover and returned again returning to brilliant, bursting fullness overhead twice more before everything changed. A fire crackles and pops merrily in the hearth, though already it is burning a little lower. Its shifting reds and yellows paint the wood-paneled walls and gray cobblestones paving the floor with warm, gentle colors. The rocking chair beside the fireplace rug throws back sharp, dancing fingers of black shadow toward the open, airy kitchen, lying mostly in shadow. The sun is very low in the sky.
Rhelle sits by the window directly opposite the kitchen where Lunira hums softly while finishing up the dishes, quietly content, on a dark wooden bench built into the wall. The bench has a thick, soft cushion. It was a team effort to make. Rhelle built the bench and collected the feathers, and Lunira sewed deep green velvet from Anarinne into a rectangular pad thick enough to sink into. It is a very nice place to sit and think.
Something nags her gently. Nothing important - just a faint feeling of recognition. The tune Lunira hums is somehow familiar. A smile tugs on slightly chapped lips as the redheaded woman recognizes it. "Will you come and dance with me, merry lady, in the snow?" she sings quietly, smiling in the direction of the kitchen. Lunira returns the smile with warm affection as she dries her hands.
"Will you wear an icy crown and laugh as the winds growl deep and low?" she responds with a little laugh. Rhelle rises, and they dance to meet each other swaying in the warm firelight. Lunira's voice is higher and sweeter, light starlight, like ice in the morning sun.
"Oh, we'll dare our dear Courine," Rhelle sings, her voice rising with power and joy and pride ("You would dare Her," Lunira laughs softly") "to send her cold white powder." She pulls her wife closer for a quick kiss, and then twirls her gently around. The younger woman's hair flows with the movement, deep blue highlights shimmering in her black hair as it catches the firelight.
"And try to keep us trapped inside! We'll only sing the louder!"
"Dance with me, dance with me, our love will keep us warm!" the two sing together, high voice like fae light, like glass and bells and wintry things, low voice as rich and nurturing as the earth and full of love and strength. Rhelle's eyes are closed, and she misses the frozen moment, charged with fear and shock, when Lunira's eyes fall on the door, held slightly ajar. She sings the last line alone. "Sing with me, sing with me, our love will keep us -"
Lunira's scream cuts her off, and green eyes and brown alike fly open.
Things begin to happen very quickly. Her heartbeat drowns her in sound and pulsing terror as the vampire, lean and deceptively human, crosses with inhuman grace and terrible speed the short distance between the front door (the threshold! How did it cross the threshold and open the door?) and in a time that seemed syrup-slow and as short as a heartbeat, Lunira fell to the floor, the vampire's venom incapacitating her in an instant.
It is unlikely instinct that saves Rhelle from suffering the same. Fire is her element, and while she doesn't have the easy comfort with it that Lunira has with water, she was trained as every child was. In blind panic, she tugs at the thousands of strands of fire energy making up the flame in the hearth and throws it at the vampire. A moment of hope stabs at her, as sharp as pain, and she throws another handful of the fire, and another.
Fire. Fire is the only thing that really destroys a vampire. Wood through the heart with turn it to still-sentient dust, as will the sun, running water will form a barrier as sure as a brick wall, but fire detroys. All she sees is flame and shadow and movement. The world dissolves into heat, the fury of the moment. She backs away and hits the wall, panting, eyes wild, and sees that the vampire has deflected the flames.
Can it do that? They can't! They definitely can't do that! Except apparently they can. The vampire wears an amused smirk. "I have to thank you," he says cheerfully, "for leaving the door open! You should be more careful. Carelessness will get you killed, you know. These are terrible times." Lunira moans in unconscious pain behind the advancing vampire.
Trapped in a corner, with fire apparently no longer her ally and no way to escape, Rhelle knows she is going to die. "You should know," she counters hoarsely, angry with the inevitability of the situation. "Or were you born this hideous?"
Irritation more than anger flashes through flat black eyes. His smile is mocking. He will savor this, make her death slower than it must be, just for that remark. The stocky redhead leans against the wall, fear and fight alike draining out of her as she braces herself for the end. She whispers a prayer to the Dark God who governs Death and grasps her amulet, silver in the shape of an ankh, pulling it out from inside her shirt. Her arm falls.
The vampire hisses like a cat, its features contorting with fear. She watches dumbly as it backs away, and then a spark of light, of hope returns to her. Compelled by something she cannot quite understand, she grasps the amulet by the long chain, raising her hand to let the symbol of eternity dangle freely, shining in the firelight.
She sees the world only in flashes of picture, surreally tinted with oranges and yellows and blues. She is closer to the monster. Has she taken a step? The vampire backs away, eyes locked on the ankh the way she would watch a poisonous snake, expression twisted with hatred and fear.
The sight of that symbol, the symbol of the continuance of life, is more than the creature can bear. Too long has it walked the earth, killing every night or else returning to the black river to gain the vitality to survive another sunrise, each visit draining a little more meaning from its continued existence. Fire, it did not fear her fire, because it longs for true death, which only fire will bring, but it can not stand this symbol of eternity. A raw cry of pain, terror, hatred, and grief tears from its throat, and it flees into the night. The door slamming against the wall behind it echoes, louder than she can believe, with her heartbeat.
Relief makes her limp, and then the smell of woodsmoke and burning fabrics clears the cobwebs from her mind. Rhelle's defense is hungrily devouring the labor of her five years living with Lunira, and two years before that. She built this home from the ground up, laboring day after day for longer than she cared to think about at the time. Now it is falling. Now it is burning.
She is frozen in an instant of indecision. The fires are too large to smother already - it has gotten ahold of curtains and the tablecloth. If she stays, she and Lunira will both die. If she goes, the things that live in the night might take her, and she will be food, or worse.
She chooses the risk. Anarinne isn't so far away, and someone there will take them in. Gently, lovingly, Rhelle lifts her lover in her arms, glad that Lunira is so delicate and slender, and holds her close, carrying her from the shelter that has protected them for five years. Without a glance back, she stumbles through the darkness, her life going up in flames behind her. All the while, she knew that eyes might be watching her, and not all would be old enough to fear the symbol of the ankh.