Author's Note: Before you begin to read, please remember this is a sequel and as such, not much past the first part is going to make much sense. By all means, feel free to read the first story, titled "Of Light" (you can find it by going to my profile page). Welcome back to my world, to those who've been eagerly awaiting this!
I am going to be attempting to cover the year between the end of "Of Light" and the real beginning of the adventure we all know is coming. I will try to date each interconnected part of the story, as things will jump forward a bit with each scene.
Until The Fall
A few miles outside of Central City, three friends said goodbye.
It was early morning, and the sky was dawning overcast. Snow fell to gather on their shoulders and in their hair, sprinkling around them on the ground, crackling and dry. Between them was utter silence. No one quite needed to speak; two knew not what to say, the third knew all the words that could never be properly conveyed, could feel all that needed to be said with his empathetic gift.
He was bundled stuffily, while she wore a long dress coat wide open, the early morning breeze prickling her flesh. Inside and out, her body felt numb; the cold didn't bother her, couldn't touch her where she was.
The Viewer turned his dark eyes on his young friend, his gaze warm and comforting.
"Raw will miss DG," he said, and offered a tiny smile as he held out his arms. Rushing to him, she buried her face in the softness of his fur vest. She wouldn't cry... she refused to cry... but he knew how hard she held back. He always knew.
"Are you sure you don't want us to go with you?" she asked, her voice cracking, betraying her.
Raw pulled away and gave her a grin, sharp white teeth rivaling the snow in their brightness. "Raw and DG have responsibilities. Paths part, will come together again."
A tear slipped loose then, unbidden. It trailed a cold path down her cheek. "Do you promise?"
Her friend was sincere. "Of course, Raw promise."
DG still wasn't satisfied, but a hand on her arm brought her back to herself. She turned towards Glitch, taking a step away from Raw, though she reached out to take the Viewer's gloved hand. Connected, the three formed a chain, and stood for the longest moment before Raw gently pulled himself from DG's grip, and DG leaned against the advisor who stood at her back.
She'd been dreading this moment for weeks. He'd dropped the news suddenly, though not unkindly. No, never unkindly.
Of all Raw excelled at, of all his gifts, the one DG appreciated the most was his ability to find the quiet places. Secluded corners where the buzz and drone of the city, the hustle and bustle of the palace didn't seem to penetrate. Little heavens tucked away within busy hells. It was during drinks after supper, one of the few occasions when his presence had been requested. Required, was more the term. Cain was in Central City and her mother had taken the opportunity to host a formal event for the heroes of the Eclipse.
The massive great dining hall was brimming with people, spilling out into hallways. Dinner was finished, and most were taking the opportunity to drink, and mingle. The entire affair, just an excuse to lift the mood, a reason to celebrate. For the sake of a party.
She'd noticed her father had already taken his leave from the festivities, as he always did when the events ran past dinner. It had crossed her mind that she'd have to find out his escape exits when she felt rough fingers close around her wrist. Raw gripped her, and he looked anxious.
"Will DG walk with Raw?" he asked softly.
Giving him a wide, relieved grin, she nodded; he led her out into the hallway and down a mixture of passages until they were quite removed from everything that was going on on the other side of the floor. An alcove with matching benches, an ostentatious potted tree decorated with tiny blown glass ornaments.
She sat down on a bench, not caring how hard it was beneath her butt as she reached down and slipped her shoes off her feet. She massaged her aching insoles, and looked up at her friend expectantly in the dim light.
"Are you okay?" she asked after a moment, when he hadn't spoken, and his agitation became clearer and clearer. He was pacing, which was never a good sign.
It was then she got her first hint at what was eating away at him.
"Raw..." he said slowly, then stopped. He saw the way she looked at him, blue eyes growing empty and far off. He shook his maned head, sighed, and moved to sit beside her on the bench. "Raw will leave city soon. Return to his people."
Her mouth had hung open for a moment, as she blinked furiously at the tears. Tears, where had they come from? All she knew was that they were there, falling against her will. Her eyes searched the floor, she refused to look at him.
"When?" It was all she could manage.
"Soon. Not tomorrow."
Not tomorrow, she thought. Well, that's something.
"Why?" Again, monosyllables were all she seemed capable of.
Raw sighed deeply. Too deeply. It almost broke her heart.
"City holds many secrets," he said, almost too quiet for her to hear. Loud footsteps were approaching, almost as if the person walking towards them wanted to announce their presence. She couldn't have cared less. Raw's next words had little comfort. "Raw see and feel too much. Not enough peace, too many lies. My people... not meant to live with DG's people."
It was a strange sensation, being left because she was human. It barely had time to register, because at that moment, the footsteps approaching the alcove stopped outside, the person to whom they belonged staying just out of sight.
It's probably –
"Hey, Furball, you done tellin' her?"
It was her turn to sigh, and for the briefest moment she turned her attention away from the Viewer. "How long it take you to notice me missing this time, Tin Man?"
Raw chuckled low beside her. "Cain watch DG walk away. Eyes never leave," he said, saving Cain the trouble of responding to her question. The Tin Man didn't enter the alcove, stayed outside, keeping watch as the princess secluded within the tiny space took her time letting the news sink in.
Cain was away from her more often than not, off hunting Longcoats. Wyatt Cain, bounty hunter. She'd smile at his job description if she didn't miss him so desperately much when he was gone.
Glitch was gone from Central City half the time, traveling between the city and the Tower, as he supervised the dismantling the machine that made up the bowels of the fortress. Metal and components were scrapped and sent via truck to every corner of the Zone, everything right down to the furniture donated like macabre souvenirs to the towns aided by the Reconstruction.
Raw now, too, had succumbed to the call of elsewhere.
And now, here she stood at six a.m., snow in her hair and clinging to her eyelashes, her cheeks stinging with cold. Somewhere deep down, she knew she was beginning to freeze, so she buttoned up her coat, taking a moment's reprieve from watching Raw adjust the pack on his shoulder.
Northeast, he would travel. A few days, into the gray-area boundary between the East and North provinces, to where his home was, where his tribe awaited him.
He'd run away, but he hoped he'd be welcomed back. She had a feeling he knew he'd be welcomed back, but she wouldn't ask.
The snow was falling a little heavier, and beginning to swirl with the wind. Glitch stepped closer and put an arm around her shoulder. A solid presence, to be sure, the friend she needed exactly when she needed him. It seemed like they took it in shifts, her guardians, her friends, making sure she'd always be taken care of.
Mostly, she rebelled against it. She wasn't a kid and she wasn't breakable. Didn't need their protection... but today, just today, she'd accept the support of her oldest friend on this side of the rainbow. Glitch, the very first. Ambrose or no, he was still usually the same.
The dimness around them was lightening, though the morning around them was still pale gray, and so, so bitterly cold.
"Glitch know how to find Raw," the Viewer said slowly, taking a step back, preparing himself to break away from his friends. "Send messenger and Raw will come when DG needs him."
DG nodded, trying to smile. It was more than she could ask for, right? That if she called, he'd be there. More than she could hope for.
Glitch reached out to shake Raw's hand, and though his eyes twinkled, a very serious, quiet voice escaped his mouth. Two men, one mind. "We'll see you down the Road, then, Friend."
Raw smiled at the advisor. "Down the Road," he repeated. Just beyond where they stood, the old Brick Route was hidden by the snow. Uneven and constant, it wound its way through the trees into the farthest corners of the Zone. Though it didn't lead the way to his home, it would take him close enough. His heart would take him the rest of the way.
No matter where we find ourselves, home is where your heart is...
With one more quick, comforting glance at DG, which spoke more than words ever could, the Viewer turned on his heel and headed away from his friends. One foot in front of the other, bravely he continued, never looking back. Glitch and DG watched him until he'd disappeared into the trees, the road leading him away.
She felt Glitch's arm squeeze her gently, and he tried to turn her away, towards the car that waited for them. She searched the trees one last time, and when she was certain she saw no more movement, she turned with her friend and they walked slowly together.
"Ya know," Glitch said, as they ambled towards the car. The driver was out, and had the rear door open for them. "There is one good thing about all of this."
DG smirked. "Oh? And whats that?" She couldn't possibly imagine.
"He doesn't have to go through the Pa-pay fields." The grin on his face was absolutely evil. And contagious. It made her smile, and before she knew it, she was laughing. Soon he joined her, and, still giggling, they clambered into the back of the black, chauffeured car to head back into the city, another day to follow all the others that came before.
During the weeks following Raw's departure, DG kept herself as busy as possible. She wouldn't even give herself the slightest chance to miss him. There was no more room in her heart for longing; it was common sense to quell it, remove herself from it. How else did anyone expect her to live through this?
She drowned herself in her daily lessons; Tutor had been giving the job of taking over her education. Not only did they have to worry about her magic, there was Ozian history, geography... East is West, she would have to remind herself. When together they'd mapped out her journeys over the countryside, pre- and post-Eclipse, she'd been surprised to learn that fact. Among about fifteen hundred others...
Azkadellia was the only one who managed to reassure DG she would be fine, that everything would be fine. That there was no reason to worry... when there were very, very large reasons looming in the distance. Everywhere she turned, there was reason to worry.
It was late, and the two sisters were seated, quite unregally, on Azkadellia's bed. Cross-legged, in nightgowns, when both should be sleeping, the scene was reminiscent of one that might have passed fifteen annuals before... that palpable word, ever present... before.
The two sat in silence to any that might have viewed them. But, in DG's words, Az was helping her with her homework.
Has there been any news? Her sister's voice broke into DG's head, as quiet as life. Azkadellia played absently with the embroidering on the edge of her pillowcase. The pillow sat in her lap, hugged up against her stomach.
No, none. Ever. I think Glitch is holding out on me. It was getting easier to do this. All she had to do was think it, and it happened. How... how, she didn't know. It just did.
Az smirked. I don't think he's holding out on you, DG. Maybe there really isn't any news.
With a sigh, DG considered this. She shifted; Azkadellia's bed was much more comfortable than hers.
There was a knock on the door. Azkadellia called out an order to come in, the first verbal word spoken in the room in over an hour.
It was Jeremy Hass that stuck his head into the room. DG looked at him, confused.
"Hass, I thought you left to go home."
Taking this as a formal invitation to fully enter the room, the young corporal stepped out of the door frame. His face looked tired, his shoulders beginning to slump with the weight and length of the day. "DG, there is someone here that needs to talk to y–"
Hass was interrupted as Ambrose burst into the room, wearing an indignant grimace and flailing his arms as if his bones were actually made of straw. "I don't need to be announced! Out of my way!"
DG clambered off the bed, watching Glitch with an amused smile. "Gentlemen, please, no fighting," she teased, glad for the break from practicing and repracticing her magic. But one look at the advisor's face... "Whats the matter?"
Glitch's face had become quite serious as he handed her a folded piece of paper. It was thick, brown, and unsealed. Flipping over once before unfolding it, she saw the outside of it bore only some form of stamped serial number. Knitting her eyebrows together curiously, she unfolded the paper.
Before she'd even begun reading, Az's voice rang through her head. Is it from him?
DG tried to suppress the laugh that threatened. The entire point of this quiet form of communication was the secrecy, she was supposed to be practicing keeping her face a mask – practicing her poker face, as it were.
I doubt it, he's not really the love note type. Talking about sentiment, so not his thing. He never even asked about my not being a virgin.
Azkadellia audibly gasped. Her eyes leaving the note, she noticed her sister's eyebrows had shot clean up into her hairline, that her mouth had formed an incredulous 'O'. You weren't a virgin?
DG burst out laughing.
Glitch was shaking his head... no, Ambrose was. "Your Highness," he said curtly, "I don't see what is so funny about this. Its a very serious matter."
DG frowned, her laugh stifled as quickly as it had come. It is? she thought to herself, as she turned her attention back to the paper. It was a telegram. She sucked in a sharp breath as she read the words, her heart descending quickly. Her stomach churned. Ohhh, it really is.
You will have your two annuals. Then, it will be mine.
- The Watcher
DG gulped; her throat had suddenly gone very dry.
She realized that everyone was watching her expectantly. She went to tuck the telegram into her pocket, but realized her nightdress had none. Pressing it to her chest instead, she cleared her throat, casting a sidelong glance at her sister. Azkadellia looked unnerved.
I'll tell you later. I have to show this to Mother. Thank you for staying up and helping me.
Azkadellia nodded. "Please send Lt. Cain in, there are some things I'd like to discuss with him about tomorrow's itinerary."
DG gave her sister a quick squeeze before heading for the door. "Lucky Jeb," she said as she walked out of the room, and though she heard nothing, she could have sworn she heard an indignant cluck from her sister echoing in her mind.
There was a scuffle of bodies outside the door as one was sent into the chambers of the Princess Royal, another sent away with the assurance that Ambrose was more than completely capable of watching over DG on the four-story trek to her parents' suite, and a pajamaed princess tried to sneak away from the three men unnoticed.
Glitch, however, was paying a remarkable amount of attention and caught up with her before she'd gotten very far. He followed closely behind her as she made her way upstairs. She didn't take the lift, instead seeking the refuge of the stairs. As late as it was, they came across no staff, only the third-shift guards.
In the stairwell, Glitch worked up the courage to reach out and catch DG by the arm.
"What exactly does the telegram mean, DG? Who is 'the Watcher'?"
The princess slowed, then stopped. With a sigh, she sat down directly in the middle of the flight, patting the space to her right, inviting him to join her. Stretching out his lanky frame, he did so; a man who, despite his height, could get comfortable anywhere.
"The telegram is from the Commander," she said slowly. Glitch made a strange noise in his throat, but she continued to speak again quickly, before he could cut in with his disapproval. "And he means the Emerald. I promised him the Emerald."
His eyebrows raised, eyes widening; he looked away from her to stare at the wall, to take in what she'd said. He was speechless, so she carried on.
"After we find a way to destroy the magic of the stone, its going to be just another gem. Pretty, but useless. I promised it to him so he'd leave our family alone," she said, her words dropping off low and soft. Oh God, he'd better stop her soon because if she continued to talk, she just might cry.
When he finally did look at her, she wished he hadn't. He looked so utterly dejected at the news, if she hadn't been the one to cause that look, she might have been forced to look away. "How many other secrets are you hiding, DG?" he asked.
She stared at him for a minute; Glitch, his pale skin, his sad eyes. Nothing but concern, despite the bite in his tone.
She took a moment to choose her words carefully, knowing this wasn't about covering her ass or trying to get out of trouble. He just wanted the truth... and that was... "I didn't mean for it to be a secret," she said matter-of-factly. She ignored him when he opened his mouth to speak. "You want to try guilting me about it, I have about a hundred reasons why I did it, and you're more than welcome to get me started."
He considered her threat, then promptly shut his mouth with a loud snap.
She took this as a cue to continue. "Honestly," she said slowly, opening up fully to her friend, "when I was explaining the entire thing when I got back from the Tomb, I forgot. I really did. The Gale kind of tacked it on as an afterthought. It was a lot to remember."
Glitch nodded understandingly. "So the Gale is the one that told you to give the stone to the outlanders?"
The princess gave a little hum of affirmation.
"Well," he said thoughtfully, "we'd better get up and go to see your parents. The Queen is going to want to see this as soon as possible. And DG... you'd better remember anything else they need to know," he advised soundly.
DG tried to smile. "No, thats everything."
The smirk coming from the advisor was skeptical, but he didn't say anything else. He helped her stand, and walked behind her as she clutched the telegram tightly, wishing desperately that next time she opened it, it might say something different.
As the two came out of the stairwell, they walked quietly along the passage until they came out at the far end of the grand, mirrored entryway. As they crossed to the opposite wing, the light from the city filtering down from the high windows catching and glinting in the mirrors along every wall, something caught DG's eye. Something... different. Like misted star bursts, so very like the lights coming in from the window, only not the same...
"Wait," she said, holding out a hand to Glitch. She stepped away from him, across the tiled floor, until she was standing directly in front of one of the floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
In the reflective glass, she saw Glitch come up behind her, study the mirror as she did.
"Whats the matter?" he asked.
Mouth slightly ajar, she shook her head. Her eyes searched along the wall, trying to catch the same strange, ethereal twinkling, but... nothing.
"I don't know. Nothing, I guess. Come on," she said with a sigh. "Lets go."
All was quiet, until the door burst open, and two people stumbled through into the dark room. They made no move for the lights as the woman began to shed her clothes, article by article, leaving a trail strewn from door to bed; gloves, dress, heels, stockings, garters... without having to speak, or ask, her companion's hands fell upon her back, loosening the laces of her corset, helping her to shimmy out of it, until she stood next to the bed in only a slip.
The Annual celebration had gone on far too long, and it was near dawn. Across the city, fireworks still popped randomly in the sky, though all now still awake were too drunk to notice or be startled by the noise and light. Somewhere past the towers surrounding them, past the walls, past the lake, the first sun was beginning to rise on this, the first day of the new year, this first annual of freedom from oppression.
This dawn... the suns rose on a new, free world.
The importance struck neither of the two, as she sat down hard on the bed and began to unpin her hair. She'd counted as they'd gone in, and she counted now as they came out. Whispering to herself, five, six, seven... as she watched him sit down in a chair, take off his heavy boots.
"Will you stay for a while?" she asked him softly, the first words spoken since they'd left the party.
"'Course I will," was his response, as the boots hit the floor with a thud. "You don't have to ask." There was a sigh of relief from him then that made her smile.
She saw his silhouette move across the bedroom, navigating around the furniture, the paths of darkness they both knew so well. She finished pulling out the last pin – the fifteenth – and leaned over to place the load of them onto the bedside stand. He sat down beside her as she shook her hair free, moaning at the pain in the roots of her hair as the tresses were released. Automatically, his hands went into her hair, massaging her scalp, the back of her neck. She let her head fall forward, sighing her appreciation.
"I don't know how many more of these balls I can take," she muttered, as his rough, skilled fingers worked circles behind her ears, at the joints of her jaw.
He snorted, though not unkindly. "As many as its gonna take, you're gonna have to attend."
She found herself giggling then. "And I'll drag you to each and every one."
There was a smile in his voice when he responded. "Yes, but at least I don't have to get all dressed up. I can wear my uniform. And I don't have to dance, either."
There was heavy silence then. He would have danced, they both knew, if only he'd been allowed to be her partner. Their eyes had met too many times across the room as she'd been swept out by one noble, and then the next, and then the next, until the entire night had passed in a haze of spin and turn. She'd seen too many people, too many faces, heard too many kind words and more than a few unkind ones. And he'd watched it all.
His hands moved down to her bare shoulders, keeping their rhythm as he rubbed the ache from her body. The burden she carried on her, the weight of it at all times too much for one person to bear, but alone she did it... until the doors of her private chambers were closed. And then, behind those doors, when all masks were dropped, he could be there for her. And he always was.
"What time are the maids in this morning?" he asked her, his voice a whisper against her skin, a breath, barely there. His thumbs slid underneath the silk straps of her slip, pulling them down her arms; replacing the touch of silk with his lips, warm kisses fluttering on her flesh.
She smiled, a gesture lost in the darkness. "Nine," she said, trying to keep her voice firm, trying not to be lost in the feel of him, the rough pads of his fingers as his lips slid up to the slope of her neck. His kisses were always light, feathery; soon, if she allowed him, the kisses would grow hot, wet, and firm. Tentative steps onto ice, testing for solidity, safety.
"That gives us some time then, doesn't it?" She could hear intention dripping from every word he spoke. Her smile widened.
"Are you sure you don't want to go to sleep instead?" she teased. "You must to be tired, too."
He snorted in amusement against her neck, before nipping her with his teeth. The tiniest of cries escaped her mouth. "No, not tired," he said, as he heard the small noise she'd made. He leaned over, repeated the gesture on the other side of her neck, a little harder. Testing the ice with a little more of his weight. "I want to feel you."
"You are feeling me," she said with a smirk. Whenever the door closed, he was there, gentle fingertips that somehow always escalated into rough grabs, a little push and shove that left them both panting and moaning. He was always ready, always willing... but also always accepting if she wasn't ready.
"Az..." Her name, on his lips, always a magic of his very own.
With a contented sigh, she gave herself over to him, to play his game. She leaned her head back, baring her neck to him to be devoured. The assault of his kisses turned warmer, warmer, until he was scorching her flesh. Teeth ghosted over her, reminding her of her own skin, her own humanity. She let him handle her, she felt safe in his hands, safe enough to relax, to feel, to cry...
He moved off the bed to stand before her, and she helped him shed his uniform. Memories threatened with every button, with every pull of fabric... another body, strong and lithe; another chest, bare and sculpted; the gentle hands she used to push away his jacket reminded her too much of her own hands, before, uncontrolled, as they ripped at a leather coat, the clink of armor as it fell needlessly away. Another man, blonde, cruel, a man after her own heart – the Sorceress's heart, no, not hers. If the Witch had even had a heart... he would hold it. She'd favored him above all the rest... though she'd grown disappointed in him, as his vulnerability, humanity, was shown through...
He was shaking her. "Az..." He knew, she was gone. He'd told her once, he knew when she drifted away. The glazed look in her eyes, her lips parting, fear etching into her frown...
She looked up at him. "I'm sorry," she whispered, before opening her thighs, pulling him to her, down upon her. Cradling his still trousered hips, she kissed his face, neck, bare shoulders frantically, hooking her ankles around the backs of his legs, dragging him close.
"Jeb," she whimpered, tears coming to her eyes as she tried to shake away the face she saw that wasn't the kind, youthful face of the young man pressed against her, the memory of a cold smirk, the biting gray eyes of her fallen... "Take it away. Please, just... please..."
She fought to see him in the almost non-existent light, as he raised on his knees, pushing her slip up around her hips; frustrated, impatient, she reached out, fumbling with his belt and fly... he was hard, waiting, if she could only... growling, she finally managed the buckle, the zipper. She shoved his pants down before grabbing him by the shoulder and hauling him down to her.
With a hand between them, Jeb positioned himself and entered her roughly, a guttural cry escaping him at the sensation, the pull on his erection as he buried himself deep inside her. She was clinging to him now, fighting back tears, laying soft kisses on his cheek as he began to move.
Az hooked her ankle around his leg again, and though he tried to move slowly, to savor their time together, with every withdrawal she jerked him hard towards her. The buckle of his belt was digging into her thigh, keeping her grounded, in the moment, the pain of it coupled with the friction of his hardness within her kept it all at bay... overwhelmed, staggering underneath the pressure of memories that were and weren't her own, she held on tight to him. He was the only thing... the only thing...
He pulled his head back to look down at her. This close, though he could see the glow of her skin, it was hard to make out her eyes. The tiny, pathetic cries leaving her throat with every inward thrust touched him too deeply; he didn't know how this closeness, this loving, helped her when she became lost like this, he'd only learned in the past months that it did. That the touch of his hands banished something hidden inside of her, something she couldn't chase away on her own.
With his body, his tongue, his breath, he exorcised her.
Author's Note II: To anyone that doesn't know, I love me some reviews. I am, as they say, a review whore. I'm not ashamed. Expect extras to come soon, such as cast pictures, and all that fun stuff. Now press that button and feed my insecurity. :P
Also, sadly, I feel it needs pointing out that I don't know how fast I'm going to be writing these chapters. Of course, my aim would be to update every day, but in all honesty, it might be every second, third, or fourth day. I doubt I'll let it go much longer than that, however.
Thanks to: KLCtheBookWorm, Queen Isabella, Erin at LJ, and wonderful LoA members Kori and Rayne. (And I promise my A/N's aren't all going to be this long!)