48: Night Flight

on August 8, 2007 in 02: Love In The Time Of Magic

In Which Mackenzie Opens Up

There was a lot of shouting and other activity going on around me, but I was deaf and numb to it, even though I‘m sure a lot of the shouting was directed at me.

Amaranth believed in science. That seemed impossible. I’d yelled and effectively called her stupid. That seemed equally impossible. She’d thrown her glasses at me and ran off into the night, crying her eyes out. At me. Because of me. That seemed… That was beyond impossible.

It was world shattering.

My mind was racing in circles, except each circle branched out and spawned new, even less productive circles. I was remembering Amaranth telling me that I only had two volumes, that I needed to find a middle ground, that I needed to learn to disagree with somebody without bludgeoning them or letting them walk all over me… and through it all, I heard myself yelling, calling her stupid. Not the Mechans… or possibly, not the rest of the Mechans… just her.

I’d lost my temper.

I’d yelled and screamed at a bunch of people I didn’t know.

I’d called Amaranth stupid.

I’d driven her away.

So many of the friends I’d thought I’d made in that short time had ended up turning on me, somehow… had they really, or I had driven them to it? I mean, didn’t I know there was something bad inside me? Hadn’t I tried to warn Amaranth of that very thing?

My first realization of having fallen to the ground was when I felt a hand grab hold of my hair and pull me more or less to my feet, in a bent-forward sort of way, and drag me over to the table. I might have cried out… but then, I think I already was.

Then, my jeans and panties were down around my ankles, and that brought me back into the moment a bit… the repeated sharp blows Steff gave me on my ass and the back of my thighs with the branch she’d found earlier brought me the rest of the way. Where Amaranth used a natural rhythm, building and teasing and tensing and withholding and withdrawing and building again, Steff was savage about it… beating the bad thoughts back inside me, driving the images and endless replays away.

The familiar sensation grew within me, but not as a steady swelling of pressure… each time the branch lashed me, the feeling… well, jumped, as if it had itself been hit… and seemed to give off a smaller explosive echo of itself. It never actually broke and washed over me, though, and when one last cry of pain pushed away the last of the anguish, Steff stopped and I laid there panting, hanging onto the table.

“Better?” she asked, quietly, but with an edge to her voice.

“Better,” I gasped. I forced my breathing to slow, then picked myself up. I turned, and wished I hadn’t… because of course, the entire Mechan circle was still there, and they were staring… and I’d just turned and shown them… I quickly turned back around, and pulled my jeans back up. “Where’s… where’s Amaranth?”

“She’s there,” Steff said, pointing roughly in the direction that Amaranth had run. “Just crested the next hill over… that big one, see? Or maybe you don’t… I forget sometimes I’ve got my father’s eyes… and now she’s gone. Athletic girl, isn’t she? I could catch her, but I don’t know if she’d stop for me… if she’d come back with me.”

“Fat chance she’d come back for me,” I said, looking away. “She’ll probably never want to see me again, after I… I…”

I was on the verge of breaking down again, when Steff slapped me with her free hand.

“We don’t have time to go through this again,” she said, holding the stick up and then tossing it aside. “Nymphs don’t always remember they’re supposed to leave footprints and stuff, so if she gets completely out of sight and earshot, we’re out of luck. I could go by myself, but if I have to hobble her and carry her back… well, as if a shrieking nymph wasn’t enough of a monster magnet, picture a lone half-elf carrying a shrieking and wounded nymph. Are you a good runner?”

“Um…” I said, not sure how to answer. I didn’t think of myself as the athletic sort, but I did have certain advantages over the average couch potato… even if I didn’t like to think about them.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll keep up,” Steff said.

“Do you require any assistance from the circle?” Prevailingwind asked her.

Steff shook her head.

“You guys work on the chart,” she said. “No sense wasting this opportunity.”

“I don’t know if…” I started, but Steff stifled me with her finger, the way that she and Amaranth did.

“I’m going,” she said. “Come along, or go home. Your choice.”

I took a deep breath. I still felt shaky, and unsure of anything… except that I’d fucked things up with Amaranth, permanently.

“I’ll come if you tell me to,” I said.

Steff’s eyes narrowed.

“You don’t deserve to have it that easy,” she said, and then she turned and was off.

I almost didn’t see just how fast she was running at first, because when she ran, she moved with a slightly rougher variation of the fluidly flowing grace that full elves moved with. I had to hurry to keep up with her, which made the places where my ass and legs should have had welts scream with pain.

“But the odds are she’d still calm down and come back, right?” I huffed once I had caught up, about halfway down the hill. “I mean, if she doesn’t run into something.”

“The thing that worries me is that without her glasses, she might not even know she’s not heading back towards the university proper,” Steff said.

“Does she even really need them?” I asked, thinking of the heavy, clunky impractical eyewear she favored. “I mean, a nymph’s body is supposed to be ideal, isn’t it?”

“Ideals can be subjective,” Steff said. “I’d imagine a half-blind girl would be some guys’ idea of heaven, wouldn’t you? Anyway, I don’t know how much her glasses would even help her if she ran into trouble… the moon’s pretty bright, but her eyes are basically human. They can’t see in the dark like we can.”

“I can’t see in the dark,” I said.

Steff shot me an incredulous sideways look.

“What? I can’t!” I said.

“You’re making your way pretty confidently now,” she said.

“Well, there’s a full moon,” I said.

“The way I understand it, from nights out with humans, a full moon pretty much gives them enough light to see big, light-colored things,” Steff said. “Once you get away from magically lit areas, they’ve got to take it pretty slow, keep their eyes to the ground.”

“Well, I don’t expect you’d get the full picture just from watching other people,” I said. It was clear as day (pardon the expression) that Steff didn’t know what she was talking about. I could make out the lay of the land almost as far away… or maybe even as far away… as I could have during the day, but it was noticeably much darker. The tall weeds, the trees which dotted the hills, the fallen limbs, the stray rocks, the small holes which might have been animals’ dens… it was like a heavy shadow had dropped over all of them.

“So, if the moon wasn’t out, you’d be limping and groping around behind me?” Steff asked.

“Yeah, I probably would be,” I said, though I honestly hadn’t taken a lot of walks out of doors on moonless nights, but I did have other experiences with lack of light I could draw on. “Like, I used to always… well, when I would find myself in a dark basement, I couldn’t see anything. I could just sort of make out where the walls and things were… I could barely see my own hand in front of my face.”

“This basement have windows?” Steff asked. “Some kind of a nightlight? Even a crack under the door?”

“No!” I said. I’d never really consciously thought about it before. “I mean, obviously, there was some light, somewhere in there, because, you know, you’re right… people can’t see in total darkness.”

“As much as I hate to say it, you remind me of some people in my circle,” Steff said. “Humans can’t see anything in total darkness, Mack… but you’re not human.”

In that moment, I could have hated Steff… aside from turning around and abandoning Amaranth, I only had two choices for getting away from her: fall behind, or get ahead.

If I tried the first one, she might just slow down so I could catch up again, and Amaranth could end up… well, I told myself that she was immortal, and that the worst thing that could happen was she’d end up back in her little farming valley, five days’ journey away.

But, a part of me feared… no, a part of me knew that if she went home now, I’d never see her again. It wasn’t rational. It probably wasn’t even true.

I still knew it, though.

I pushed myself further, lengthened my stride until I wasn’t just running, I was pushing off with every foot step. I don’t know if I would have looked like I was running, bounding, or flying. I just know it jarred the hell out of me, every time one of my feet came down. It was hell on my ankles and calves, especially on the unevenly sloping ground. I knew I wasn’t doing myself any real damage, though, and I had to be leaving Steff in my dust as I raced up the side of the next hill.

“I knew you could run faster,” she said, trotting easily right along beside me. I chanced a look at her… though she was breathing a bit harder, she didn’t appear to have to have lengthened or quickened her stride. That one brief look cost me, as my foot came down wrong. It was like I kicked the hillside in front of me while running full-out. My leg felt like it accordioned, and then I tumbled backwards, biting my tongue.

Steff turned while in motion, alarm on her face. She somehow managed to skid to a stop, backwards, without losing her balance and, came and knelt by me.

“Oh shit, are you okay?” she asked.

“Of course I am,” I said, though of course I felt fucked up several times over, and when I put my hand to my mouth, it came back bloody.

“It’s nothing,” I said. “I bit my tongue.” She stared at me. “Haven’t you ever bit your tongue before?” I asked.

“I thought you were, you know, invulnerable,” she said. “To non-magical weapons.” Her eyes widened appreciably, and she gave me a wide grin. “You… you’ve got magic teeth!”

“It’s nothing,” I said again, more firmly. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“No, but that’s so awesome!” she said. “Do you have fangs?”

I opened my mouth.

“Do you see fangs?” I demanded. Well, it didn’t come out quite like that, with my mouth wide open, but she got the idea.

“No,” she said. She sounded disappointed. “How about your cla… your nails? Are they magic, too?”

“I think they’re just nails,” I said, clenching my fists to protect them from scrutiny. Of course, I’d always kept my nails clipped and filed so short it would have been hard to cut anything with them, myself included.

“Oh,” she said, disappointment filling her voice and face. “Hey… open your mouth again like that?”

I did, wondering for a moment if her keen elven eyesight had noticed something I hadn’t. Did I have fangs? Maybe tiny and underdeveloped ones… or ones that were just growing in. She just stared. Nervous, I strained my mouth open even farther, hoping she’d get a better look and just tell me what was wrong… and then a little more… and then, really straining, still a little more.

Steff finally gave a low whistle, and… probably less than five seconds later… I realized why she was gaping at me. My jaw flew shut. I wanted very badly to murder her with my eyes, but they insisted on venting their wrath down the front of my shirt.

“I know you’re pretty much into the whole, you know, pussy thing at this point,” she said, which did nothing to diminish my blush, “but I really hope you’ll consider…”

Amaranth’s scream… high, terrified, and infinitely prolonged… killed the rest of the sentence.

I was heading up the hill before I knew it… before I’d even properly got up. I wasn’t bothering with any pretense of running now. I forgot about trying to act human. The hill was my only concern, as it was standing between me and Amaranth. When my legs came in contact with the ground, they pushed. When my hands did, they pulled and clawed. It needs hardly be mentioned that a human-shaped body is not built for moving on all fours. The knees don’t bend the right way and the legs are the wrong length. My movements would have looked more natural if I had been scrabbling to keep from falling up a much steeper slope, but they somehow carried me up to the top of the hill faster than if I’d been walking upright.

Once I got up and over the hill, I could see down the other side. I could see with sickening clarity the figure of Amaranth, her naked skin shining bright in the moonlight as she recoiled from a mass of grasping hands and clacking jaws, stumbling backwards… towards another group of the same.

When I looked at the things which were moving to surround her, I found myself reminded for the first time in years of my old Veil mask… the worm-and-mildew eaten, rotting, twisted face with its sightless eyes hanging weirdly out of the somehow not-so-sightless seeming sockets.

I found myself once again thinking, wildly, impossibly that it had come alive… or rather, turned real… and that now it had come looking for me, the fickle little girl who’d put so much of her hopes and dreams into it and then abandoned it to the elements.

Only, it had grown a body… a body just as shrunken and twisted and peeling and warped as it was.

And it had brought friends.

Lots of friends.

Steff was beside me in a flash, and she saw what I saw… probably in greater detail and with greater clarity, both for the gift of eyesight from her elven father and for not being thrown into a horrific childhood memory at the sight of the things. She said a single word, her voice full of something that was more awe than fear… but with the fear definitely there.

“Ghouls.”


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2 Responses to “48: Night Flight”

  1. BMeph says:

    This does NOT sound like “hot ghoul-on-girl action”…
    (Ba-DUM-pum)

    Current score: 1
    • Kanta says:

      Well that depends on what you’re in to…

      Current score: 0