Like Lovers
2: hear/promise

He sits in the darkest corner, squat body hunched over the edge of the bar in a pose of fear as he studies the sour liquid tucked inside an unsightly mug, unconsciously striving to call back something lost to him. Something tantalizing and dark that can hide him, protect him from the shadows he once pledged his soul to in the blood of another, a woman who had begged for mercy and screamed, but was silenced cruelly in spite of her faith in deliverance, in false promises. The thought of her blood roils his stomached in a wave of disgust; at himself or her pitiful defenses, he does not know for sure. He makes a guttural sound and moves to down the fermented drink, to let it burn down his throat with slimy coolness, thick and bitter. He fails and merely sips, grimacing at the strong flavor and nearly gagging, a strong, vile scent filling his sensitive nostrils and bringing dark memories of blood and screaming…

"How ya doing, babe?" a rude voice questions, shattering the tentative seclusion just as the slender sword descending shatters a molded glass before him, glittering shards spraying thinly in a rain of silver glass. He looks up, quivering as he restrains the compulsion, ancient as every basic instinct, to bolt, flee from the predator fully capable of tearing him into a horrific mess, and he dredges up the reserves to stop his shaking under the icy stare of her upturned eyes, black as dusted coal and as deadly. Thin, crooked crescent ridges along her cheekbones, her arched eye sockets, glint a sickly shade of green from the dull refracted light shimmering off the glass droplets and she smiles heartlessly, her eyes darkening not with humor but a flickering hate that burns his gut to lead. Well, he thinks miserably, at least I have alcohol. "Before you open your lying mouth, Taggert," she continues, voice carefully cleansed of thought and emotion, "I want you to know I would love nothing more than to tear it off of your face and pin it to Gorm's nonexistent heart." His face flinches at Gorm's name before he can stop it and her smile grows crafty, sly and curiously hungry between her limp, black hair. "No more poisonous words; you know what I know.

"Bluetooth didn't kill Gorm."

It hangs in the air, the voiced admission of a whispered rumor, cultivated in underground circles and bartered for salvation in bars, spread amongst those that followed, worshipped Gorm as they nurture slow plans to change fate once more. To hear it stated as fact, as a venomous truth capable of rendering the mind useless, by the wolf, the Hunter of Galidor, made an imperceptible shift occur in the heady, smoky air, as if every breath in the room is unraveling, leaning closer to hear and learn what they yearn, fear. Taggert feels dull, tarnished and worn, and he presses his wrinkled, browned fingers against the smooth surface of the mug before, aching to shove away the irrational niggle of terror wrapping about his throat, he sucks the remnants of the drink into his mouth, choking it down and tossing the mug back to the counter. It rolls, shadowed and calloused, over the bar, stopping after a moment as it slows, dying.

"Gorm," he hears himself whisper in a tightened voice, clenching and unclenching his hands as he tries to think of a suitable lie, "is dead, he cannot be alive, the tapes…" He starts again, dimly knowing that he must tread carefully with the Hunter, speak in lies that twist upon themselves to form an illusion of truth, but he cannot drag it out, this forgotten skill of deception. "There are tapes of his death, salvaged from the throne room. I do not think--" Taggert stops, frightened, as she slams her blade on the vinyl counter a second time, scarring the synthetic glaze, her free hand snarling at the throat of his jerkin and twisting sharply, swiftly altering stiff cloth into biting edges that dig into his neck. His hands flail, his body shoved off the stool and pinned painfully on the wall, his back crushing and straightening against it, one hand touching the bar briefly in quest of a makeshift weapon. She drives her honed blade of shining moonlight between his fingers, her knuckles a string of bright pearls as she clutches the grip with crushing force.

"Don't you dare try to bitch me," she hisses lowly, her beautiful, violent eyes flattened like the Earth creature she is called after, feral and barely leashed by her own strength of will. "You know Gorm is alive, as should any moron who pays attention, and you are not going to give me any of your crap!" her hand tightens on his shirt, her thumb pushing into the scaly flab at his neck, and he moves his hand in pacifying acquiescence, mingled with self-preservation, from the blade buried in the bar, turning his palms up to her. Tearing her sword free, she relinquishes her hold on him, but, where once he would have fled, he remains, acutely aware that she will not hesitate to plunge her weapon into his chest and even more aware that it would be useless to attempt to strike her; the glittering bottle tinted an engulfing shade of violet by its contents hangs, as grim a reminder as the sword she holds impatiently, around her slender neck, voicelessly speaking of her ultimate superiority. "Bluetooth might not realize it himself, but he's been tracking down anyone with glinch powers. When Allegra ran, he followed, forgetting that which was imperative, forgetting to take back that itsy bitsy, insignificant," her voice drips with sarcasm, "bit that Gorm stole from him. Even Bluetooth isn't stupid enough to choose a girl over his own blood. He slayed an illusion and you know it. His glinch would have called him to absorb that which was his and he wouldn't be able to control that urge, so the only reason why so many refugees with Galidorean blood are taken is because he's looking for that absurd fraction missing." She steps back, smug and smirking, her features contorting powerfully.

"If," Taggert says faintly after several long minutes, "if you knew this, already, what purpose would you have for seeking me out? You…think that you know it all, do you not?" And then, with some courage, or idiocy, tainting his words, "You are a fool, Lihnd."

Lihnd blinks, her smirk dwindling into a thin-lipped frown, a bare downward twitching of the corners of her mouth, and then a ghostly grin twists back her cheeks into sleek, eerie arches as she laughs emptily. "Pay attention, Taggert: I wanted affirmation of what I was most sure I knew, and," she continues with a cruel smirk touching her pale lips, "I needed someone to run my ideas by."

"Stress relief," says Taggert with a boldness he thought he had long since lost. "You only wish to take out your rage on myself and others of the same sort. You have no need for me. " His eyes linger on the light-kissed steel she holds, at the tensing muscles sewn along her bones, over, around, in her fingers and rounded knuckles, and he bites his tongue sharply, feeling blood well from mirroring slashes, as her hand tightens on the geometrically patterned pommel, her face drawn and terrifyingly lupine in its sudden, calculated anger. To play the fool, he has known well for years, is to play the Joker, the all powerful deception, slid beneath the innocent ace. Dying now, at the hand of an irritatingly superior Galidorean woman, is a gamble he willing to take this far in the game.

But instead of calling his bluff, telling him with her sword's sharp edge, gouging into his throat, that she if fully aware his joker if but a deux-of-diamonds, pointless and powerful, she grins, an adept warrior in this battle of knowledge and cautious, shifting boundaries. "The humans, the people who fathered Bluetooth, they have an interesting phrase: eyes are the windows to the soul." She slides her blade back in the dark sheath knotted to her belt and plucks the empty, foul smelling mug from the recesses it fled to, smashing it down on the abused counter with enough force to turn the remainder of his digestive system to lead, but not enough to break the hardy material of both counter and mug. "If you had a soul," Lihnd says clearly, the corners of her mouth pulling up in sadistic amusement, "I'd say it works just fine. Here," she pulls a few shell blue coins from a slit in her overcoat, dropping them before Taggert like poisoned manna, "get yourself drunk." She snaps on her heel, moving in defined motions to leave, and she hesitates, turning to face him as he mindlessly scoops the coins to himself, a particularly ugly look destroying her pretty features.

She says softly, "Shove that up your ass and die." And then she leaves, forcing her lithe body through the crush of burly, drunken creatures, faceless, nameless, homeless, and, behind her, Taggert pushes the scraggly pile of coins forward, asking the service drone for a new mug of thick alcohol.


Stepping into her Spartan, cooled apartment is akin to taking that first step out through the circle of grass, bare feet sinking into the dark snow, a shift in atmosphere from the warm vitality preserved in a semicircle about the dome house by the grace of the Eternal Queen Riana, to the breathtaking, humid cold of a true Galidor winter, and Lihnd inhales, overcome by the beauty of a precious memory she yearns to replace with a new one, a new memory of snow the shade of ebony diamonds. For now, though, she closes her eyes, fingering the pebbles of the door pad, pressing a button and standing still as the hydraulic door hisses and clicks across the empty space, locking automatically.

She was a child by the standards of Galidor's slow-aging people, young and just beginning to experiment with the few glinch powers she was developing, and the appearance of a rare snowfall, the first she had ever seen. The desire to feel it, taste it, cup it in her hands, filled her heart and she fidgeted all through the simple breakfast her mother prepared, shoving a crumbling roll into her mouth and forcing it down her throat as it coated her tongue with a pasty layer of wettened, dry bread. She managed to choke it down as she tumbled out the door, her blue nightgown fluttering around chubby, pale legs as she skipped across the grass, her unique sense of smell picking up the clear, fresh scent of water, but her sharp eyes could not find the source of the crystalline liquid; the sleek lakes and waterfalls of the east are a distance away. Staring at the darkened snow, she snagged her upper lip in her teeth and chewed, anxiously, once, then leapt as ferociously as she dared, planting her knees and hands firmly when she landed. A gasp tore from her lops, a quiet plea at the coldness seeping like river water through the cerulean fabric of her nightgown, and she felt that lovely chill drift up, enveloping her in the silence of winter, the rush as her senses, heightened by the glimmer of inherent power in her blood, before she closed her fingers, lifting a handful of the slippery cold and fitting it into her mouth, an epiphany combusting in her mind: the snow was water! She decided there, kneeling in the snow with one hand a brilliant red and her cheeks slick from inexplicable tears, that she loved winter.

Lihnd exhales, reluctantly opening her eyes to see the clean order of her small, narrow apartment, momentarily foreign to her senses as she emerges from the euphoric moment she first became aware of the sheer vastness of everything, the breathless feeling of becoming a hunter in those delicate seconds. Casting her gaze gliding over the turquoise furniture, scant as it is, she groans at the sight of the thin disk hovering an inch or two over the single bed occupying one side of her room, indicating that someone has deigned it dutiful to contact her personal line. She grumbles a few choice expletives and strides across the room, her steps predatory as she strips her belt off and shrugs away her overcoat, tossing the offending articles onto a small sofa. Wearing naught but a loose white undershirt tucked studiously beneath the tidy hem of her dark pants, she snatches the flat disk from its floating station and thumbs it once, releasing it. Simultaneous with her freeing the message disk, an admittedly fuzzy hologram explodes from it, stretching and morphing to blanket her wall with a poor quality visual, gritty and spotted with occasional glitches of furry darkness.

"--ell won't this thing work?" Allegra's voice echoes from the disk's small confines, tinny and warped by a low transmission. Judging by the haggard, insolent expression on the darker-skinned woman's face, Lihnd is willing to bet she didn't call for love advices and she winces briefly, cutting her mind off before it can slip down the treacherous slop of a good-natured joke about old friendships. "Oh, thank God, finally…Lihnd, if for whatever reason you get this message," she squint at the image of Allegra and is mildly startled to see her hair is longer, her eyes perhaps a bit sadder; hold is this, Lihnd almost demands of the hologram, catching herself, "then I am really screwed." Lihnd grins proudly at the crude term. Allegra sighs, a sound muted and filtered into a noise close to a tuneless hum, rising and falling meaninglessly, and rubs at the base of her skull, a nervous habit she has never explained to anyone other than the Three: Jens, Euripides, and Nepol. "I've attached some files of importance, the usual stuff about Nicholas' strategies and movements, who all of Galidor descent has disappeared of late, lists of allies: his and ours, et cetera, don't worry, the info is a lot more recent than this message." Allegra grants her an orchestrated, encouraging smile, the one she used years before to tell Nick that even though she thought he was a complete and total idiot, she'd go along with whatever he had planned, God protect them all. "I've deleted all other copies of the files; even if it is old stuff to us, he doesn't know we have it. You should be able to download the attached files to your comp.

"If you get this, odds are I am, to be cliché, beyond all hope. Oh, and, by the way, remember to feed my pet for me, would you?"

And with that, the holograms flickers, overrun with cancerous spots as if struck with leprosy, and the disk falls to the bed's giving softness.

"Shit," Lihnd spits out as she snatches up the disk a second time, scrambling to her feet and running slipshod to a small, chipped cubbyhole hidden by a pile of clothes carefully arranged there, digging into it and pulling out her comp as well as a flat cylinder with a pad of silver buttons, standard Kuin ciphers blazed onto them. She shoves the disk into the reception port of her comp and begins booting the device, tapping the complex pattern into the cylinder that will get her a link with Jens, and she pauses a minute to gather herself into a manageable presence, which promptly turns to ashes as she struggles to slap something together piecemeal in her head. Cutting off the link-up temporarily, she repeats her curse, a great deal more vehemently before, slamming the comp down in her lap as she roars, soundlessly, for it to hurry up.


- - - - - - - - - - - - -
listen, do you hear
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"I've got the sniffles," the woman in the crimson room moans piteously, her voice both sad and angry as she pinches her nose and shuffles, like a despondent cat, her feet through the thick, shaggy carpeting stained a shade further maroon than the rest of her appointed quarters. Her free hands reaches behind her head, slender fingers gingerly probing the puckered ridge of skin hidden by the curling mist of her thick black hair, nursing a wash of lonesome self-pity and feeling she is more child than adult. The rain outside streams through the air like wet silver, throwing itself suicidally against the crystal glass of the vast, multi-paned window lining the outer side of her room, thickly bordered by folded, leaden oceans of crushed garnet velvet she moved aside earlier, to see the molten storm looming up, peculiarly out of place in the acrid dryness of Kek's sweltering air. Standing at the wavering helm of the sky, watching the snarling wind lick up thousands of orange tentacles of sand, whirling and smashing into oblivion through the furious gale and the horrible, saddened rain, Allegra runs her hands along her arms, feeling tiny bumps where the flesh rises in response to the cool touch. She steadfastly ignores the stick liquid trickling ever-so-slowly down her cheeks, and when she does acknowledge the existence of it and, a little more reluctantly, its origins, she tells herself sternly, silently, It is a perfectly normal reaction to frequent and erratic bursts of adrenaline, brought on by stress, frustration, and weather that is often associated with bouts of depression. Seasonal anxiety, an overt sense of loss, subconscious response to some regressed, or suppressed, fear.

"'Night of the Living Dead,'" she mutters and snickers in spite of herself, suddenly awash by the mortifying memory of a pair of eight-year olds peeking through the staircase at her home at a Halloween party, bound and determined to figure out how, without any of the adults downstairs noticing them, one could be dead yet living. The recollection of Nick-who-was-not-Nicholas, his boundlessly empowered imagination pushing him full bore into the throes of hysteria as zombies rose from their weighty tombs and scaring her to tears, as her parents and his grandfather pounded up the stairs to hug and kiss and scold the terror away, is threaded with an old annoyance at the nightmares the experience had brought, unwelcome, to her that night. Right, she whispers in her head, crossing her wrists over her cheeks and touching a continuing, pillowing dampness, I'm crying because seventeen years ago, my best friend and I saw a B-rate horror film during a sleepover. "Stupid," she scowls, arching her hands back to her arms and rubbing the insides of her wrists against the thighs of her shadow colored slacks, grimacing at the layer of dirt stuck to the thin cloth.

An air of resignation sidles onto her shoulders and utters a low, disgruntled sound at the mild grime hooked on her palms, wrinkling her nose and trudging across the plush depths of the floor, her booted feet lost in its short, woven forest, gravitating towards the door that opens in a light bubble of compressed air when the heel of her hand finds the quiet blue button alongside it. Stepping into the fractionally cooler hallway outside of her chambers, she crosses her arms over her shirt, tucking her hands under her arms, pinned to her sides, and grants the staircase to her left a disparaging glare filled with every drop of exhausted malice she can muster, and she stamps her foot on the ground as thoughtfully as she can, mentally exacting a tiny map that is composed of little more than the small staircase and the landing adjoined to it, her room, and the smaller rooms connected to one another, with her bedchamber as the central hub. The bathroom in particular is of interest to her in the form of basic cleanliness, but she foregoes those pleasantries for the more important matter of knowledge, to take this opportunity to learn things she might find use for when Lihnd, being the crass individual she is, takes it to mind to rally up the Three and sabotage Nicholas, one wolf attacking another for control of a single beta female, and Allegra sets her fact sternly in a habitual expression of perfectly contained exasperation, hoping the other woman has not yet viewed the aged recording she made years ago, following the horrifying ordeal of the Larjonian rebellion, the massacre caused by her insistence in the Larjonian people rising up against the complicated monarchy of the Outer Dimension. A choking wave of unprecedented guilt unbalances her and she curls her fingers into claws, tightening over the softness of her rib cage, and she breathes in a shaky manner.

'Allegra,' she imagines Lihnd saying, that flashing scowl on her face showing twin rows of imperceptibly sharp teeth, 'you are being stupid again. Now shut up and get in the spaceship before I have to beat Nepol into dragging you in.'

She laughs at herself, at the fitting words she has on past occasions heard in one form or another, and she pushes the guilt away, but still logs into memory the idea to free, at least, the Larjonian imprisoned somewhere below, hidden and locked away in the catacombs of Kek's cavernous tunnels and dungeons, a web of natural underground labyrinths paved and walled by some ancient ruler in the centuries before the first monarch of Galidor appeared. "That would be around, what, the French Revolution?" she remarks dryly as she walks down the short landing to the plain, nondescript door at its end. Either it's another door into my bathroom, she thinks, which means the designer's a pervert, or--

Allegra taps the release button and the door slides out of the way, and she is standing on the verge of death, staring a colossal distance down from the peak of one of the dead prison's towers, and her fingers splay frantically, curling over the metal frame humming with pulsating energy. Her breathing is frozen, air caught sharply in her throat as if her lungs are filled with tar, as if a knife has been thrust into her fragile chest cavity, and she remembers being held, helpless, over a bottomless, snarling abyss, jutting crags surrounded by screeching bat creatures, knowing she will be killed, fearing when she is not. The fear is still there; it clogs her throat and stares down at the blood red dirt so far below her eyesight fails, reeling and turning her stomach.

Stumbling back, she slams her hand over the release button and leans against the door when it is shut, her limbs quivering as she inhales deeply, sucking air into her lung, breathing, breathing, trying to forget the fear.

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I thought I heard a promise
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|Author's Notes: I have a great deal to say for this chapter, the first thing being that I'm hoping someone will find the irony in this whole situation. Not only have I posted this more or less a month later than I had planned it, but instead of it being an entirely 'past' chapter…it's an entirely 'present' chapter. I'd still like to write a 'past' chapter, but I think it'll be a while later, considering I still have a major original character to introduce, as well as the Three's first 'present' appearance in this fic, and a minor original character. Next chapter should actually handle all of their introductions.

A huge amount of the stuff to be said is set in the first half of this chapter (half being a relative term). A somewhat small one would be my spelling of everyone's favorite slightly antisocial Galidorean refugee's name. I've chosen to spell it as 'Lihnd' for a variety of reasons, the foremost being the pronunciation of it. I originally thought it to be Lin, but if one pays close enough attention, there is a 'd' sound at the end of it, but a very muted one. Spelling her name as 'Lind' stuck me as awkward (I thought it looked too much like it would rhyme with 'rind' and 'mind,' instead of the obviously softer sound to it), and I like using 'h' in the middle of foreign names. Thusly, Lihnd. Bug me about official spellings later. ;]

I've chosen to throw in references to Earth cultures because, for one, the Stranger had to have been in the Outer Dimension for quite a while (this is related to a spiel I'll write some other time about aging in O.D. and Galidor), as Earth slang pops up every once in a while in Nepol's terminology, and there is always an undertone of familiarity with human matters (considering Samuel was also in the position of, for whatever period of time, being the husband of a queen, this could also have had results). Two obvious references are the frequent comparisons of Lihnd with a wolf and the card allegory. I used a Joker, an ace, and a deux-of-diamonds as allegories for deception and power: contrary to popular belief, the two Joker cards are the most powerful cards in a deck, hence why they are rarely allowed in games. The Joker represents the absolution of chance or fate, a darkly humorous reminder to expect the unexpected and keep in mind that the greatest fool can be the greatest foe. (I'd love to write an essay drawing inferences from the Joker cards' in the shaping of the character of Xellos Metallium, the Trickster Priest, from the multitude of Slayers anime, manga, and novels.) The ace, however, is both the second greatest card (often considered the greatest, as the Joker is frequently discarded at the opening of a game) and the weakest; ever play Solitaire? Then you know. It is capable to beat anything other than a Joker…and another card that I'll discuss. Aces symbolize the simplicity of power as well as the weakness of it, used to hide other cards or be hidden by them, and, overall, it's always felt like it could be described as 'innocent,' in a way. The other card capable of destroying an ace, the third I mentioned in the aforementioned passage, is simply a two: an ace is higher than a king, but it's also a one. Deux is French for 'two' and I coupled it with diamonds for yet another horrifically long-winded hidden meaning. The diamonds sect in a traditional card deck are symbolic of greed and jealousy, the lust for money, power, and other vices. No offense to French people, of course, but 'deux' is far fancier than 'two,' and diamonds are associated with elegance, grace, and fancy stuff. (*sweatdrops*) So…Taggert was bluffing that he had a Joker (absolute power) by hiding it with an ace (innocent power) that people would accept the ace alone as a truth, but Lihnd saw through the deception and figured the Joker was only a deux-of-diamonds (his own greed personified), which would only serve to defeat him. Basically, it was a horrifically symbolic way of saying Lihnd held all the cards in that meeting. I could have save a lot of time and a lot of grief if I'd just said that, wouldn't I? *ducks various flying objects*

Last thing for Lihnd: I labeled her Hunter. This is a tribute of sorts to tradition the Outer Dimension seems to have with adding '-er' to things. Samuel's title was 'Stranger,' Koulash's was 'Opener,' etc. It seemed to fit, as wolves are hunter and Lihnd is most assuredly a hunter. Her epiphany is also a tribute, but one to anyone who has ever seen something wonderful in nature and realized, straight to their core, the vastness of life.

Two personal jokes in Allegra's bit of this chapter, vague ones. 'The Night of the Living Dead' memory is a call-back to when I was five and sneaked a viewing of Bela Lugosi's version of 'Dracula,' the black-and-white one. Vampires still scare the heck out of me (unless it's 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' where they tend to be more goofy than menacing and more tortured than torturous). Her off-hand pervert comment is a reference to the word I use most often in my art class, as I sit with four guys who are definitely perverted. Thank God they treat me like a baby sister. Well…except for one, but he's a buttmunch. . I doubt I'm marrying a guy from Mississippi.

This chapter managed to earn the PG-13 rating, as Lihnd cursed four times (it's completely unrealistic to expect someone outside of a children's show to say something like 'golly gee whiz' in a stressful, aggressive situation like war) and it was suggested that Allegra cursed (hologram). Mild references to blood in the first paragraph. (I have some minor continuity errors to fix in chapter one…)

Thank-yous to my two reviewers as well as the people who reviewed the prologue, and Mr. Matthew Ewald, who has been relatively understanding as a pen pal and has yet to kill me for my inability to punctually reply to e-mails. But I'm working on being better at responding faster! (Alas, if only AOL would stop being so rude to me…)

I've been wanting very badly to write a side story focusing on Samuel and Riana…another fic, maybe?

Purple Mongoose/PallaPlease.|