This week's story comes from KC:
Within seconds a face appeared in front of her. It chittered at her, urging her to get up.
“Keep going, Fen!” she whispered desperately. The fennec fox chittered at her again. “Go!” she repeated, hauling herself to her feet and pushing herself forward. Fen dashed on ahead of her.
Faith’s breath was ripping through her throat, but she dared not stop. She was too exposed in the open air. At least she could protect herself in the mountains. She prayed that the man was unaware of the retreat. It was a desperate hope, but she was out of options. Faith kept her eyes on the three towering rocks just ahead of her and aimed her path toward the westernmost mountain. Fen was already halfway there; she could see the tawny blob in the distance. She let out a choked sob and tried to pick up speed.
The wind was starting to pick up. She could feel it tugging at her back. There was a sudden growl behind her, dark and inhuman. Faith cried out as her shawl was caught in a particularly strong gust, almost pulling her off her feet. She tore the shawl from her neck and kept running. The opening to the cave was there, not fifty feet in front of her. Fen was waiting for her. Faith dug her heels into the sand. With a cry of relief and triumph, she flung herself over the threshold and onto the harder floor of the cave, Fen yipping happily.
Faith opened her arms and Fen leaped into them, licking her face. “We did it, Fen!” she whispered. “We’re okay.”
“Are you completely sure about that?” He was there, standing at the mouth of the cave.
Faith instinctively hugged Fen tighter, eliciting a small yelp of protest. She released him and faced the man. “You can’t come in here.”
“Not right now, no,” said the man, “but all in good time. I’m sure you don’t plan to stay in there forever. You’re bound to get hungry at some point.”
“I’m sure you’re starving,” she shot back. “I hope you starve to death.”
The man clicked his tongue. “That’s not very nice, now, is it?”
“As if you care anything about nice,” Faith whispered to herself.
He reached into his pocket and drew forth her shawl. “It wouldn’t do to forget where you come from, little Faith.” He glanced up at the sky. “You may be out of my reach for now, but you’re trusting yourself to a far darker power than mine.”
“I’ll take my chances,” Faith told him.
“Very well. Have faith.” The man laughed at his joke. “You’re trading one cage for another, my dear. I’m sorry to lose you.”
“I bet you are,” she said with more confidence than she felt.
He laughed and flung her shawl into the air, then gently exhaled. The shawl drifted on unseen wind, floating through the cave’s entrance and landing at Faith’s feet. She took a step away with a sharp intake of breath. When she looked back at the entrance to the cave, he was gone. Untrusting, she carefully approached the entrance and held out a hand. The symbols carved into the wall by her ancestors were still there; wards against evil. She knelt and retrieved a torch that lay by the entrance. With a few whispered words, the torch flared to life and she held it before her as a weapon against the growing darkness.
There was a scuffling sound behind her and she turned to find Fen tugging playfully at the shawl. He grabbed it in his teeth and whipped his head back and forth, flipping it through the air, throwing shadows on the floor. One shadow detached itself from the others and danced toward her. Faith thrust the torch before her, casting light across the dark object.
It was a feather.
She picked it up and saw that it wasn’t dark after all. It was white with dark brown splotches and almost-black spots. The rachis was silver. She stroked the vane, enjoying the softness against her fingertips. Faith turned it this way and that, letting it glint in the firelight.
“You like it?” a voice asked.
Faith gasped and dropped the torch. With cat-like reflexes, the man reached out and caught it, holding it aloft. He had long, pale locks and warm, golden eyes. He was bare-chested and his body, she noted, was lithe and muscular and covered in a thin layer of hair. He wore a pair of leather breeches. He watched her with an easy, confident gaze. Faith stared.
“You like it?” he repeated. When she furrowed her brow in confusion, he gestured to the feather in her hand.
“Oh, I…um, sure.” He grinned, showing a row of very bright teeth. She noticed that his lips were almost non-existent. “Who are you?”
“I am a friend, Faith,” he assured her, stepping forward. She countered. “A friend,” he repeated. “Your friend seems to trust me.” He indicated Fen, who was winding around the man’s legs. The man knelt and stroked the animal between the ears. Fen closed his eyes in pleasure.
“The man…he said…”
“My brother has not always shown me the greatest love.”
“Your brother?” Faith was terrified anew. She backed away from him. “How can you be here? The glyphs – they protect this cave. It is sacred ground.”
“I was honored by your ancestors,” the man told her.
“You – you are-” She couldn’t bring herself to say the revered name.
“I am a friend,” he told her once again.
“You can protect me from…?” She found that she was having trouble with words. Her heart was beating faster.
“He cannot touch you here,” the man assured her. “This is my domain.”
“Are you sure?”
As an answer, he placed the torch on a sconce and opened his arms. Fen let out a happy yip. Overwhelmed, Faith rushed into his embrace and pressed her face into his chest, inhaling deeply. He smelled of clean earth. His heart beat steadily against her cheek; a contrast to her own racing heart. She could feel her blood quickening, excited by his proximity. He was a legend among her people, but it was more than that. He was so…masculine. So close. She felt more womanly than she had ever felt before. Despite her inexperience with men, she felt mature. She felt desirable.
Faith let her hands roam his back, feeling the hard muscles beneath the surprisingly soft down. She ran her fingers over his shoulders and up his neck to his strong jawline. His own hands found their way to her hair and tenderly pulled her head away from his chest. He looked down at her with eyes aglow with affection. She knew her eyes reflected the same luminescence. Faith tilted her chin up: an invitation. He moved, ever so slowly. It was agonizing, waiting for him to cross the few inches between them and place his lips against hers, but when he did, her whole body came alive. Her head filled with yearning; there was no room for anything else. She wanted him. She made no move to resist him as he took the straps from her shoulders and let her dress fall to the floor.
Standing before him without clothing was even more thrilling and a shiver rippled through her body. She slid her hands over his chest and down his flat stomach toward his breeches. Her fingers began to work at the laces while he stood, waiting. When she had freed him from his own clothing, he took her in his arms and laid her down. Her breath was coming in short bursts. She had always feared her first time, but there was no fear now. Everything felt right. Her brain had lost all capacity to reason and she was transported to a place that was purely physical and filled with pleasure. The firelight grew brighter, mimicking the sensation. Her sounds of joy turned into a scream.
Her blood felt as though it were on fire, her whole body racked with pain. Then, as quickly as it came, the heat was gone. It felt as though she would never be warm ever again. She stared up at the fire, but there seemed to be warmth coming from it. The only heat was coming from the man on top of her. She clung to him, desperately seeking comfort, but the more she held him, the colder she became. He grinned at her again.
“I do thank you, my dear. It has been a long time since I have had something so fresh.”
“I…I…” Her lips were turning blue and her teeth were chattering.
“Your people would be proud.”
Faith no longer heard him. She barely felt Fen nudging her hand as the world went dark. The fennec fox whined.
“Don’t fret, Fen,” said the man, standing and stretching. “You did a good job leading her here.”
“And I suppose I get nothing for my part?”
The naked man peered at his brother through the cave entrance. The two were dark and light mirrors of each other. “Of course you do,” said the lighter one. “You get full credit.”
“Credit is for those that care. You know what I came for. The time is drawing near.” He glanced upwards.
“Yes, I understand.” The lighter brother stepped toward Faith, lifted her gently in his arms and handed her through the cave entrance to his brother’s waiting arms. “Be careful. It’s cold out there.” He grinned.
His brother did not return the smile. “Very funny. Just be thankful that I was able to get your amulet into the cave.”
The pale-haired man knelt and picked up the feather. “Yes, thank you for that.”
“I’m going to need that back if you want any more sacrifices.”
He handed the feather to his dark brother. “Seems you get as much out of this as I do.”
“I do.” The man looked to the sky and knelt beside the body. “She’s as cold as ice,” he noted. Then he smirked. “Thank you."
“I think I’ll head off,” said his warm brother. “I don’t care to watch this part.”
“You never could. Until next time then.”
“Yes. Enjoy your feast, brother.” He turned his back on the cave entrance, ignoring the slurping sounds echoing in the night. Fen ran to his side and brushed up against his leg, yipping pitifully. “Oh, don’t worry, Fen. You’ll be free soon enough. What do you have: forty-three years left?” A sad yip confirmed this. “Well, keep it up and maybe you’ll get out early for good behavior.” He laughed as he picked up his breeches. “In the meantime, there’s more work to do. It’s always a new month.” He snapped his fingers. Against his own will, Fen left the cave, dashing past the dark figure finishing off the lost Faith.