Tolthe wasn’t going to apologise for favoring sympathetic magic over blood magic, nor would he apologize for suspecting he could do the same with sympathy – better even, than Eliana could do by slicing herself up and swapping spit, biting like cats in heat. Instead of whining, he pressed his lips into a tight line and enjoyed the coppery taste in his mouth from her bite.
“You could have just asked.” He sifted through a range of snide remarks he could have used and settled on this relatively mild one, to make up for the voodoo bit.
Eliana smiled prettily, “What fun would that have been? I needed to prove a point.”
“Oh? What point would that be?”
She trailed a finger down his cheek with a sweet smile, twirling a finger into his pale blond hair. “What I’m capable of. A blood mage, I think it’s what your people call it.” She paused, biting her lip. “Tell me more about your people. About you. You seem to think you know everything about me.” She slid off of the table and into his lap, watching him carefully under long lashes. “Talk to me.”
Tolthe’s body resisted his silent request to not shudder when the tips of Eliana’s fingers grazed the slightly raised dotted tattoos on the cliff of his cheekbones. He clenched his jaw and gulped hard.
“My people?” He stalled. What to tell? That their king was dead and the favorite prince was lying comatose in bed while his grieving mother sobbed at his bedside, too distraught to eat or drink. Could he tell her that his people were suffering with their dying royal family and if he didn’t fix it he’d really be up shits creek? What would a witch do with information like that? Would she give two shits about the elves of New York?
“My people are a Kingdom of Icelandic elves, hence the creative swearing – it’s Icelandic. Uh. I too am. I’m a mage. My brother is in charge of the military, and I the mages, and…” He leaned back and thanked the gods for his apparently ridiculous leather pants which were acting more like a clever encasing at the moment. “My mum. She’s alive. My brother just barely. I. I am also alive. My father is definitely dead and it isn’t really…” he cleared his throat so he continue running circles around this warranted talking about himself business. “Necromancer,” he stiffened – not in the aforementioned area, this time his back. “I’m going to need to strike that deal with you. I’ll pay the price. My people are suffering.”
Eliana tilted her head at his hesitation, her pointer finger, tapping the bottom of his chin as he paused. She couldn’t say she knew much about Elves and their culture, nothing more than the obvious that every witch had to know. Tall, elegant beings with a flair for magic and royalty. Enchanting. Deadly. A more democratic form of monarchy than one would think from them. She shifted in his lap, moving her free hand to play with the drawstrings of his hoodie.
“Tell me how your father died. What happened to your brother?” She pulled lightly on his hair. “Are you truly ready to pay the price?”
There it was. The question he had wanted to avoid.
“My brother was meant to be king after my father. My father was murdered. I suppose the killer wanted to cover his bases.” He caught her hands to still the incessant futzing with his hair and clothes, and held them against his chest. His heart beat fast under the burn of his anxious skin. “It’s not about being ready for anything. I have no choice. I don’t have to be ready, I just have to do it. My father wasn’t ready. Why should I be?”
“And now you’ve taken it into your hands to try and save the day.” She flattened her hands against his chest, raising her eyes to meet his. “Murder and necromancy are two very different things. The victim of a murderer rarely ever gets a choice in their death, but the payment in necromancy must be fully prepared and willing to die for another to live. The spell doesn’t work as well if you are reluctant. You aren’t ready to die. You just think it’s a better option than living with your guilt and regret.”
“Semantics.” Tolthe pushed her hands off his chest like a squeegee on a wet windshield. “You said nothing about readiness. Only that I had to be willing and well prepared. Who the fuck is ever ready to die? Name me one goddam person you’ve worked with who actually wanted to die.” His pout was back and he wasn’t stamping it from his face.
She raised her hands up in the air, a common ‘I surrender’ position that might have been seen as something submissive and respectful if not for the smirk on her face and the amusement she felt spotting his pointed ears turn red. “Readiness is all part of the game. Plenty of people are ready to die, some come to me to give their death some greater purpose. Moving on with the idea that their life and death was not meaningless. It’s more common than you might think amongst some darker circles.”
Tolthe pulled his hood up over his face and pulled the drawstring tight. “Yeah, all right. All of that.” He waggled his reedy fingers at Eliana. “I want exactly that, all of it.” He said without looking at her.
Eliana laughed, her blonde curls bouncing cheerfully. She caught his fingers, slipping her smaller hand into his and creating some semblance of holding hands between them. “You look really convincing, I should tell you, all pink ears and hiding behind American Apparel hoodies. It’s almost adorable.”
“How dare you.” The corners of his lips twitched upward and he tried not to squeeze her hand very much. “I’m sitting here begging you to let my death mean something and you’re laughing at my ears. Heartless, I tell you.”
She tapped her fingers on the back of his hand, smiling brightly. “I tried to warn you. What were your words again, ‘the most amoral hussy?’” She pulled on his drawstring with her free hand, tightening the hoodie so that it only showed his nose. “Completely heartless, I am. I laugh at the possibility of your death.”
“Prove me right then and get it over with. Be a good amoral necromancer just like everyone says you are and get to the energy bartering. Should I give a nice speech about how you shouldn’t listen to the haterzz when I’m gone? I’m quite good with speeches.” His face went slack, save for his hidden crinkled brow. “How do we go about doing this?” He mumbled into the fuzzy lining of his hoodie. “Do I die first and you do the voodoo later? Are we doing this now or need I make another appointment?”
She patted his face.
“I’m sure you can save your haterz gonna hate speech for later. I can’t take you seriously now that I’ve seen you with loner hoodie face and have smooshed your face.” Eliana rested her hand on his waist, leaning in to peer at him closely. “Do you really want to die in a college campus library? It’s kind of a terrible place to die, if you ask me.”
“No no, of course not. I want the bed of roses, bury me in satin shit. Of course we must go back to the kingdom and fetch my crown and…” he unsmooshed his face so they could talk about the business that was damn near going to make him retch if he didn’t keep going over the importance of this deal in his head – and how retching might blow his air of confidence with the whole death and readiness garbage. “… Well you see, it doesn’t really matter anymore, does it? You can go ahead and bury me in an unmarked grave so … Oh. Should we do that? Can you take care of getting rid of me or should I just wear cement shoes and wade into the Hudson? Have you a plan of action?”
“Pretentious. I can get behind that.” She shrugged. Usually the client had very particular plans on what would happen to their body when she was done. Some wanted to be cremated and tossed into the ocean, others wanted to be buried in a family plot. Those usually required more delicate work, making sure that the cuts and spells she made didn’t injure the body too much. If not, a simple glamour would last long enough until the body is in the ground. “Well, I’m going to have a lot of fun stabbing you, but that isn’t how you are going to die. We could do it now, if you really, really wanted to. But most people like a little more time to prep, to say good bye, etc, etc.”
“You’re going to stab me? More than once? Having fun stabbing at a man sounds like more than once… and it’s stabbing and not killing?” His jaw clenched and he caught the inside of his cheeks with his teeth, refusing to let go like a lock jawed dog. “Ríða mér”
“Depends on how much I like you, really. It’s all in the precision.” She grinned, tapping his cheek with her pointer finger. “Well, if you insist.”
Totlthe angled his head away from Eliana. What were the chances that she knew enough Icelandic to misunderstand the figurative use of his words? The thought sent an unwelcomed ripple through his body.
“Are you…?” He narrowed his eyes at her. “…being a true amoral hussy?”
Surprisingly, his looming brutal death was weighing him down. The back of his neck was damp under his hoodie. He slid down in his seat with the soundless grace of an alley cat born on the streets. He unzipped his hoodie, pulled his arms out of the sleeves and tugged at the hem of his muggy white v-neck.
“The one favor I ask, if I may – Can you braid hair fairly well? It’s a pain in the ass to pull off the Nordic plaits. It’s probably an asinine request to you, but could you just braid my hair?” He sounded like a tool asking. “My mom normally does it because I don’t have the patience for it.” He was arguably an even bigger tool for admitting his mom still braided his hair. He closed his eyes. His poor mother.
Eliana tapped her fingers across the buckle of his belt, her grin widening. “Sex, darling, does not make a girl amoral. Besides, it hardly looks like you’re complaining.” She tightened her hold on his hand when he slid down, balancing herself on his lap. She watched quietly as he shrugged off his jacket, raising an eyebrow at his request.
“You want me to braid your hair?”
She almost laughed when he admitted that it was his mother that usually put his hair in its braids. It reminded her of when she was little and would sit in front of her own mother while she brushed through her mess of curls and pulled it into a tight ponytail before school. “I can do that.”
His eyes darkened and he shied away from her. She was clearly having a ball and he was feeling particularly unfunny.
“I know, sex is great. I was only joking.” He spoke the low, soothing voice of a damned man who had accepted his fate. It was the perfect cover, not even a quiver to his voice. He reached up to tuck a blonde coil behind her ear but plunged his hand into her hair instead, shaking the curls out because trying to tame her would be cruel and an ill-fated attempt.
“But I was only using profanity and I don’t want to mislead you. Not that I would say no. I wouldn’t. You’re far too lovely for me and I’d be lucky to have you – I just wanted to be clear, I don’t want you to feel obligated. I’m sounding like a pathetic dying man with a list of wishes.” His hands rested over his hip bones, centimeters from where Eliana was tantalizingly playing with the band of his belt. He tried his best not to touch her, instead, he enjoyed the warmth of her energy and the closeness of her fingers to his.
“As for the hair, it’s a tradition. Weddings, coronations, general celebrations… funerals. I get none so the braiding would be the least I could do if I weren’t hopeless at it.”
It was almost adorable, how he shied away from her fun and amusement. She leaned back slightly into his touch, laughing as he tried to shake her curls out from their usual mess. Her hair only ever came down to something manageable with a flat iron, hair spray, and a hell of a lot of determination.
“I know, princeling. I know.” She moved her hand lower slowly, watching him with a pretty smile. “I don’t ever do anything out of obligation. Even for Elf princes with a list of genie wishes.”
She paused her hands’ motions, nodding minutely as he explained the braids. It did make sense, with how much she saw of elves and their braids in large events. Parties and dates and that one odd wedding that she managed to attend so many years ago. “I can give you a nice French braid if you’d like. Or just a handful of smaller ones. It’ll be fun.”
Tolthe scoffed. “They’re called plaits, not French braids.” The arrogant twinge to his voice hung around, though he wanted to express his gratitude for Eliana’s acceptance of his last request, his shackled panic was betraying his good intentions.
“This is a serious matter.” His face set and he fought against the stubborn upturned corner of his mouth. He ran his hands through his wavy, shoulder-length hair and parted the top half from the bottom. “We’ll do this properly, or not at … or to a mildly presentable fashion.” He stammered, changing his mind half-way through.
“If you may, braid this straight back. No French braids just yet.” He eased two sections out, just above his ears and let them hang loosely around his face. “That’s your first task.” He handed her a small clear elastic he’d been wearing around his finger like a ring and tried to relax. Keeping the infinite wheel of internal banter from his face was a fair amount of magic on it’s own. The more Tolthe said things to himself like “Don’t be a fucking coward. You’re weak. Just do this, death thing. Better you than him.”, the more difficult it was to keep those thoughts from reaching his tense jaw and white-knuckled fists full of the soft fabric of Eliana’s skirts.
Eliana widened her eyes comically, tilting her head to the right as her voice took on a familiar Southern drawl. “Why, I am so sorry. Allow me to plait your hair.”
She grinned, watching him fight his own smile as he stammered through his requests. “Don’t you worry your pretty little mind. I can give you neat little plaits that’ll make your Elf heart go thump thump.” She patted her chest in time with her words, pulling lightly at the buckle of his belt before taking in the blond strands of his hair into her hands. She took the clear elastic off his hand, slipping it onto her wrist as she ran her fingers through his hair, pulling at the ends.
“Take a deep breathe, princeling. I can feel how tense you are without even thinking about it.”
“Tell me, is this what you say to all your customers? Pat them on the belly and tell them to relax? It will all be so much better tomorrow, honey… when you’re dead.” His teeth crunched together with an ache when he let them meet once more in a sharper clench to his stressed jaw. He relieved the tension only to catch the already torn flesh of the inside of his mouth between his teeth harder than before.
“Only the special ones.” She cupped his jaw, shaking it loose for a moment. “You’re going to chew your entire mouth out like that. Which really would be a pity, since you have quite the mouth. Hate to see it all bloodied up and tense before it has to be.”
“That’s a mental picture I’d rather not see.” He pushed his head further into her hands. “Is there a time limit to how long Necromancy works? Can you bring me back if after say, ten years someone is crazy enough to seek me out? Or would I be a zombie by that point?”
She continued braiding his hair, neat lines that were as tight as twine. It came in good practice, she supposed, after having to braid so her own hair so many times after she moved out. “I suppose I could, if someone were insane enough to die for you. It’d be harder and much more tedious, as you would have already begun rotting and peeling away, but fixing that is possible.”
“Niðurgangur skíta api. Well that’s good to know.”
-Written Collaboratively by Aubrey ‘Meeks’ Brown and Cara….. All characters belong solely to the author who wrote them ie: Cara owns Eliana and the world to which she belongs to, and Aubrey owns Tolthe and the world to which he belongs to. All items are copy-written accordingly.
Illustration by Aegisdea