Angels in Waterfalls
..."Schala!" cried a blue-haired boy. His eyes, of like color, expanded in sheer joy. Rare it was that his dear sister had time to spend with him so the boy cherished each moment. Not many loved ones could be counted in Janus' inner circle, maybe near to none, but Schala exceeded them all.
The eyes of his sister, also of that shade, glimmered. Gently, she encompassed the youth. "I love you, Janus," she whispered. "I always have. I always will."
A sniffle then, "I love you, too, sis."
Suddenly her arms starting fading for no reason at all. The boy flung out his own in desperation. Like the receding of the celestial body at sundown, so did she keep diminishing. Finally, his composure shattered akin a mirror after too much heat and his hand shot out to seize hers...
Like a bolt of lightning, Magus awoke.
"Let go!" demanded a beautiful woman whom sat at his side.
Realizing, by looking down, he held her captive through his grasp, he hastily did as asked.
Golden sunlight streamed from a near-by window to crawl over his form. It highlighted his features with immaculate effect. Sweat beaded his brow and he swept it aside with the back of his hand. With that same limb, the sorcerer forced his curtain of sapphire-hued hair to retreat to his shoulder. His breath came in labored gasps. Yes, he was alive but he doubted it would require much to make short work of that miracle.
How did I survive? What's been going on? Where am I?
The woman seated on his current bed watched him intently. Her aqua dress only enhanced the green in the lovely depths of pupils. Like a flame from a scone, her curls dangled with each elegant movement. Despite the sharpness of her expression, the narrowing of eyebrows, he sensed vast relief. And that face...
His own brows lifted dramatically. My assassin is my rescuer! Oh, what irony!
Leaning over the side, she clutched a silver tray with a bowl of soup, orange juice and a slab of bread. "Hungry?"
He was ravenous. Devouring the feed with an efficiency only paralleled by his magical skill, the wizard cleaved through the food like he'd never eaten his life. As he ate, Magus noted her still observing. The prince of darkness slowed his pace.
Her laughter filled the room with good-humor. "I'd imagine you'd be famished. You haven't eaten in over two weeks."
Magus nearly dropped his glass. His face registered disbelief. "TWO WEEKS?! That's how long I've been out?" he questioned with a tone of incredulity that equaled his expression.
"Not out, silly. You've been delirious and I couldn't force more than a morse or two down your mouth." She fell silent, grim. "I didn't know if you'd make it. You're lucky, you know. How do you feel?"
He downed the liquid. The wizard didn't much like the common fare–his experienced taste and stature demanded superior quality–but since he was fortunate to be alive, period, he didn't contest it. "Honestly, I feel like shit. But I guess after getting the Void beat out of you that comes with the territory."
His comment drew more laughter. It was warm and uplifting yet it carried a note of sorrow. "I can't blame you for feeling like that. After what you went through I wondered if I was too late. I'm glad I wasn't."
"So am I."
The young woman then promptly detailed his various injuries. While she did that, his rescuer also cleared the area of debris. After cleaning the dishes like a dutiful wife, the woman then proceeded to organize his apparel. And a sharp pang knifed Magus.
Bless the reaper! Dose she know? His eyes trailed over her journey through his garments. Soon she would encounter her arrow and discover the hideous truth. And that would be the end of him.
Hoping the conversation could distract her, the sorcerer said out loud, "So...the list goes like this: one broken arm, several cracked ribs, numerous cuts and bruises, a punctured lung, a bashed-in skull and both legs shattered almost beyond repair. On top of that, I was legally blind."
When she nodded her head, Magus continued. "I do believe you're right–I am a tremendously fortunate fellow." As he'd hoped, the woman laughed and abandoned her task of scouring his clothing. Instead, she strode to him on the cot and seated herself on his left.
The fragrance of her hair shocked him with intoxication. Her beauty was incomparable; to call it mere beauty is to compare her river to a teardrop. He found it unsettling. Then mirth found his thoughts. Brilliant, Magus. Get attracted to a woman who'd slit your throat. Man, do I have strange tastes...
Her words shattered his train of thought. "My name is Aurora Veronica Kaili. And yours is?"
Nimbly, his tongue leapt to a lie. "...Janus. Janus Zeal." Well, it wasn't technically a lie and there was no way in the Void he'd tell her the unblemished truth. Magus was a number of things but being an idiot was not one of them.
Those leaf-green eyes widened as she whispered, "That's a beautiful name."
Magus didn't reply. A name was a name; it mattered little to him.
The ranger-healer commenced his restoration again. Apparently, she'd been at it for weeks, first from the initial brush with death, then a bout of fever, and lastly to revive his vision. Ultimately, she continued now to repair wounded appendages. It came quite apparent that she'd changed him. Such an action with nary any permission didn't offend him; if anything he found it quite humorous. As Aurora labored over his body, in frequent uncompromising positions, Magus pondered his predicament.
What will she do when she discovers I am not who I claim to be? Or, rather, that I conceal my alter ego?
It was threatening possibility–probability.
All the while, the healer worked on him, Magus feigned examining his current dwelling. It was in good health, he noted, though he was used to miles better. A wooden cabin, furnished not unlike a lodge, with sweeping reverse-corner panels. This was one of several chambers. Two windows served to exhibit his outside environment. Fresh lilacs, not his choice of embellishment, rested in a glass at a night stand near his bed. While it was a pleasant residence, he could hardly make it a prime place to visit...he was missing the usual blue flame, substituted for a hearth, the massive cabalistic statues, exchanged for flower pots, and the screaming of his prisoners, reciprocated for bird's chirping.
In other words, it was Magus' nightmare reincarnated.
Again, she spoke, "I think it's time you got some more rest." Seeing him preparing to rise, she laid a hand on the wizard's chest, forestalling his objections. Her tone was gentle but firm. "No. You are not fully healed. You're very lucky, Janus. Don't push it."
He sighed his resignation.
She rose from the cot and wished him sweet dreams. Obediently, Magus shut his eyes. Natural primitive instincts waged war in his mind–the last time he'd lost his sight, the sorcerer feared he'd never see again. But discipline maintained his composure. She'd restored his sight and much else.
Prince of darkness was now immeasurably thankful for not having brought his purple cloak–she'd have recognized that for sure. As well, the mystic realized why she hadn't detected his true identity already...that very concealing cloak still held her enthralled...and unless Magus removed that spell Aurora would never know. Not that I'm going to do that! I'm no idiot. Feeling the softness of the sheets and the aching of his body, the wizard let himself rest.
But he did not sleep.
Sword-tipped ears prickled at Aurora's movement sounds. Magus waited for her to search his attire again and unearth the treachery with a sharp, sick feeling. His heart thudded to her every breath. Mercifully, her cry of betrayal never came.
The door shut softly. In the velvety blackness, the sorcerer waited until he assured himself she would not return unexpectedly. Then, Magus stole out of the blankets and poured through his clothing. Ever nerve in his body positively screamed against those actions–indeed, he was still not fully healed–but he continued anyway. What different did his discomfort make if she slayed him, the sorcerer reasoned. His hands met daggers, gold coins, even his precious medallion which he promptly pocketed.
And an arrow.
Again Magus sighed, that of sheer gratefulness. Ten delicate digits ventured the length of the wooden shaft, from its high-quality steel tip to its exotic numerously-feathered end. Eyes lit in the morning's half-golden, half-grey light. Here was the item that would betray his true nature. With a soft magical word, he ignited it.
Sparse flames licked the extent clean. Soon, there was no more bolt. A third sigh. And a smile, half-bitter, half-mocking. "Sorry, my dear, but Magus isn't ready to show his real colors just yet. Maybe never."
Silently, he returned to bed. Now his thoughts did not haunt his dreams.
They should have been...unfortunately, Magus didn't notice in his fevered haste that a single feather, separated from its kin, had survived the burning.
But what you don't know, you can't dream about.
The delightful smell of bacon filtered Aurora's nose. That was joined by a spark from savage fats that danced in the meat. The healer tilted her flame-emulating head to a side, partially-closing her eyes dreamily. Outside, she could hear the sweet chirping of birds as they greeted the fresh morning...and her.
She whistled back and two sparrows glided down to sit on her open window. As if joyous to know they'd pleased their audience, the birds continued their song. Aurora listened, absentmindedly, her mind returning to the face of him as it always did when nothing demanded her immediate attention.
But it always comes back to you, doesn't it, Janus?
It had been weeks since the ambush. Already, the ranger's wounds had healed nicely, all limbs in perfect functioning order and her mind as sharp as a dagger. Aurora's mind yet held sight of the attackers and a sigh passed her lips. If it hadn't been for her savior...
"I guess each of us has an angel, right?" asked Aurora of the birds. Of course, she expected no response except for a chirp which both obliged. Yes, that eccentric, exotic stranger had saved her from death, and worse–at the peril of his own life. Indeed he'd almost paid that price; the price of a daring good samaritan.
But just as he'd rescued her, she had amply repaid the favor. Or had she? The poor man had suffered one hell of a long torture. After Aurora had delivered Janus to her cabin rendezvous, he'd been near death. And he'd hung on that thread of life for days, her healing spells and potions barely sufficient to sustain him.
As if that wasn't bad enough, her savior developed a severe case of a fever. She'd yet to fathom its origins. For another week the ranger-healer labored on him. His will to survive and stamina must have been immense, indeed, for the man had emerged from that as well. Like a mother tending a child, Aurora stood by his side, feeding, changing, healing, protecting–the entire scope of attending to.
Aurora's smooth porcelain face crimsoned. No, she couldn't bring herself to do that. No doubt he needed one but the ranger wondered just how much Janus would tolerate. For days now, he'd been awake and must have noticed his change in attire. Yet, he offered no protest, dressed in an off-white linen shirt, brown pants, and lime vest, an outfit that had been her brother's. It was not his usual apparel, she noted, but his clothing was definitely beyond anything she'd seen before let alone attained.
...Why is he so familiar?...she wondered as Aurora flipped the burning bacon.
Throughout the weeks, his face reminded her vividly of someone she'd seen before. Despite that, the healer could not place those beautiful outlander features. Certainly, he was not familiar! How could she have met one such as himself?
That memory frequently taunted, still out of reach, like something or someone had placed an obstacle in that corridor of her mind and kept her frustrated. Well, if I really do know Janus from somewhere I'm sure I'll remember soon enough...
"Ouch!" she cried.
Her hand gleamed red from a burn. With her uninjured limb, Aurora cradled the wounded appendage. Emerald eyes took in the metal frying pan that proceeded to snap savagely as if it were a rabid dog. Then, she realized her error.
Thoughts had her attention and distracted her from the bacon. Thus, the pan become extraordinarily scalding and scorched the healer's negligent hand. Plus, the meat was burned.
"Oh, well, if Janus gets picky, he can just eat eggs and toast." So saying, Aurora withdrew the mangled bacon and, tossing the inedible away, added it to a plate. That plate already contained a fire-burned toast and likewise cooked eggs. She had never been a very good cook but then, living by herself in a cabin miles from the nearest village, she'd never had to learn to prepare for another.
Hoping Janus hadn't suddenly developed a new tastebud and desire for better prepared food, Aurora flung a disobedient crimson strand aside and ascended her stairs. It was a two-story cabin, constructed by her brother and his comrades as a gift. Neither of her siblings had approved of her solitary lifestyle but both respected it. She was best served being one with nature; everyone knew that.
Both hands carefully gripped the silver tray with a novice's ill-ease. She traveled through the short corridor to locate the room that had been Janus' since his unanticipated arrival. Though Aurora selected the chamber because it retained most of the sun's light, her visitor had stated in no uncertain terms that she should close the curtains. Mystified, she complied.
He's a strange one, that Janus. I wonder where he comes from...
With a slight kick of her boot, the ranger-healer forced the wood door open. She carried the tray inside with her and shut the entrance with another kick. It was difficult but soon Janus would be well enough to do his own door-closing.
Aurora smiled as she thought of him. Then her cheeks mantled at her unladylike fantasies. If only Janus knew...
Janus was gone.
"Break....," she started, her voice first that of a mother's plummeting to that of a child's. Eyes widened. Lips parted. Face contorted. Those hands that had been so meticulously handling the tray faltered. Toast, bacon, eggs, and apple juice all fell to the rugged floor. It jumbled with a variety of colors and destroying the efforts of over an hour of slaving in a kitchen.
But that did not hold her sway. Those hands came to her face in shock. What happened to him? Did he run away? Was he captured? All of these dreadful thoughts flooded Aurora's mind. When she searched for his clothing, that, too, was missing. The bed had been rearranged as if the occupier intended to return. This, of course, alluded to the fact that he'd merely stepped out for air.
Still terror clung with a savage grip as if it were a living thing. She approached the window, open now, though it had been closed the last time the ranger had been here. Soft velvet curtains fluttered like feathers. Dear god, don't tell me he jumped!
Her cry of desperate horror clipped to that of joy. No, she noted, gazing down, there was no body. Unblemished grass floated in the breeze. No blood, guts, or other more appalling signs of suicide. It all added up to his momentary walk.
Relieved and furious at Janus' actions, Aurora left the chamber, sidestepping her mess. Her boots slammed in angry paces on the stairs. Who was he, to frighten her in such a manner! The nerve! Righteous indignation filled her face. With a swift hand the ranger-healer collected her short sword and bow and arrows. No telling what kind of trouble he'd might have gotten himself into.
Like a cat, she stealthy slunk past numerous aspens and oaks. Grass tickled any bare flesh. The sun shone overhead, tracing over her from when it could bypass the leaves blocking its path. Aurora kept searching, determined to give the blue-haired ass a piece of her mind. Only the sounds of nature answered her waiting thoughts. Then a soft rush of water prevailed the clamor.
The waterfall! What if he drowned!? Irritated, she forced those silly musings aside. True, he was yet wounded, but Janus was hardly infirm. She knew that; Aurora had helped him to the road of recovery.
Again, her thoughts irate, Aurora sought the waterfall. Few paralleled her ranger's skills and so it took no time at all to seek out the aforementioned body of water. A few paces east, another west, down past some boulders and the noise intensified.
As Aurora approached, the healer finally caught sight of him. At first there was but an immense waterfall, cascading and flickering in the afternoon sunlight. The next; he emerged from the depths. Surfacing, his vibrant azure hair seemed but waves themselves offering him an animalistic–captivating–look.
She gasped, burned red, and clapped a hand over her mouth. Apparently, Janus was taking the bath she'd failed to give him. Her green pupils trailed the length of his body, mercifully concealed, at least partially, by the crystalline waters. A pristine sapphire blanket surged over his form, akin to his blue mane. Milky foam, products of the indominatable rush, danced near offering an almost surreal feel.
Well, at least I found him...Dear God, he's naked!...
Janus hadn't seemed to have noticed her. His delicate fingers traced patterns in the not-so-still surface while five others entered his hair at the temple and streamed it. Silverily shimmers frolicked on the edge, enhanced by the sun. He stood rigid a moment, thinking. Then he supplied a silky sigh.
"Will you get me that towel or do you plan on gawking at me all day?"
An unbidden squeal erupted from Aurora's lips. He had noticed! Blazing even more than before, if that was possible, she retrieved the indicated navy cloth. It felt soft to the touch. Forcing the humiliation from her face and willing herself to banish some VERY unladylike reflections, she handed him the towel.
Though the ranger-healer had politely averted her eyes, she sensed the smug grin. He was laughing! Well, if not technically at least figuratively. When, Aurora turned around after assured of his decency, she saw two eyes gleaming in humor, each as cold as ice and as hot as fire.
There is something so utterly...just so utterly, about him.
He gestured with a sculptured finger for her to sit. The ranger-healer followed him, half-angry, half-ashamed, wholly-enchanted. A short distance from the surf, Janus reclined on a grassy knob. She, too, lay down.
"Worried?" he questioned, one side of his lips crooked.
"Angry is more like it. I cooked you breakfast, you know."
Those eyes glittered, amused. "Ah, yes, your indigestible, incinerated toast, eggs and bacon with toxic apple juice. I never did quite get over the last bunch of nuked breakfast, thank you very much indeed. So, I had to decline."
A grunt and Aurora retorted, "If you didn't like it you didn't have to eat it."
His laughter, so alien, so vibrant, filled her heart like soft satin. It was not malicious, ill-willed. Instead, Janus seemed to be enjoying the spar. He had eaten her fare, bad though it was, before and always thanked the ranger-healer for her efforts if not her skill. Now, with him so near, Aurora found herself oddly distracted.
These past few weeks, with him so close to death, the ranger-healer slowly but surely become impressed. No one should have recovered from such a horrific beating, let alone be out having a bath! That admiration cultivated into affection. Even as Janus recuperated, Aurora felt herself as drawn to him as the color of blue to a pond.
Or a waterfall.
Her voice soft, she whispered, "Why did you save my life, Janus?"
His tactic was to return the question. "Why did you save mine?"
Like a spoiled child, she crossed her arms as certainly as annoyance crossed her face, "I asked first."
Janus' expression rippled with undecipherable emotion. Finally, he answered, "You needed help."
"That is hardly an answer."
"It's the only one you're going to get." At this, Janus turned away but not before the healer noted his tormented countenance. Eyes slitted. Lips pursued. Fists clenched and unclenched. He certainly is odd...she noted.
Not knowing why, Aurora reached out a hand to brush some of his lovely sapphire hair aside. Her fingers tingled at the touch, so unlike anything she'd ever experienced before. Heart hammering in her ears, hair like a sunset in disarray, she gently pulled his chin in her direction.
His face was devoid of feeling at her touch and, still, she could sense some potent emotion within her savior. After long moments, Janus lifted both hands to bring her forehead to his lips. As soft as a summer's breeze, he kissed her. She jumped, startled, but he did not release her. Instead, Janus proceeded with his passionate gestures, streaming fingers through her hair. His lips were surprisingly warm.
Aurora did not remain idle. She returned the kisses and embrace with ardent energy. Her breaths came in sweet gasps at his touch. As his hands trailed her hair, the ranger's rippled his. Janus' body felt so good, so right, to be near as if they were not a week or two acquittances but long-time lovers that were well versed in the rhythm of each other's hearts.
Can he hear the beating of my heart? Surely, he must feel the same!
Those heartbeats intensified as if the whole of creation fell silent. Golden rays shone over them, warming them even as they warmed one another. With an impossibly gentle touch, Janus removed her clothing: leather hunting skirt, green shirt, and silk scarf. He whispered her name over and over again.
Soon his towel disappeared, falling into the waters, drifting on the currents to be bid away. Its navy color only merged with the blueness of the liquid to be lost forever.
Neither returned to the cabin all that day.