Sneak Peek #3: A Bullet for Death’s Rifle by Emily Duncan, illustrated by Sonia Liao

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Death is a girl named Caterina Kazakova. She harvests souls with her sniper rifle and watches as war tears through her country, as it always has and always will. When Caterina falls in love with a soldier in the warlord’s army, she knows what they have will be a short and bitter thing. A girl who is Death cannot love; a boy who is a soldier in this war is fated to die.

She collected the tethers like strings tied to her fingers, some black, some red, some in colors that Caterina had no name for. There were many, the aftermath of this battle was grim. A shot. A tether tied to her index finger. Another shot. A string tied to her wrist. She did not discriminate, she tied strings from both sides around and around until her own gloves had disappeared underneath the weight of the souls and their stories.

But it was dangerous to listen. It was dangerous to bend an ear and allow the soul their final words. If one spoke, the rest would hear and demand their turn. Too many tethers, too many strings, too many souls to ever hear their woes and their unfulfilled dreams. Better to set them free.

– Except from A Bullet for Death’s Rifle from @glitzandshadows , art by@sonialiao

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Tolthe vs Eliana P.4 : Good and Dead

Eliana and Tolthe 4“Ready.”

“Oh, after, that really changes every-” She was cut off by his hands cupping her face, the soft press of lips against hers in such a sweet moment it almost made her heart break for the older Elf. She put down the knife and rested one hand on his cheek, the other tightening gently against his waist. It felt like a good bye, a thank you, and hope rolled into one, causing her to close her eyes and just press herself closer to him.

She pulled herself away with a shaky breath. Centering herself, she picked the knife up again, pressing the edge to his cheek, watching quietly as it broke skin and the dark red blood ran down his face like a tear.

The tiny pop of his skin breaking under the point of the cool knife startled Tolthe in the slightest. He didn’t make a sound, only felt the bead of blood glob down his face at his slight movement. All his skin was burning. Anxiety marched like ants under every inch of his skin. There was no turning back. The monumentality of it threatened to relieve him of his consciousness but he was determined to be alert for the last moments of his life.

The knife was spelled, charmed to spread the necessary enchantments and restraints through the target’s body without the tedious task of manually casting every spell and drawing every damn sigil. She pressed the knife against his other cheek, cutting two smooth x’s across his cheeks. It would begin to hurt now, the feeling of something crawling under your skin and bleeding through your body like poison.

Tolthe moaned through his once again clenched jaw. He tried to bite through the pain, but was met with chipping teeth. His body went rigid wickedly fast. Whatever he was expecting, this wasn’t it.

Eliana grabbed Tolthe’s shoulder, both to keep her balance and to be able to push him back down if he moved. She cut a thin, shallow line across his throat, pressing her fingers and murmuring to herself. It was crucial that she did everything correctly, that every cut was precise and purposeful. She would hate herself for it all to go to waste because she was distracted. I’m sorry.

She pressed her fingers harshly against his pulse, cutting his lips quickly.

Blood filled his mouth like a flood and gargled through the slice at his neck. The blood loss was making the room spin and giving him a migraine. If it lasted much longer he’d puke and pass out.

If she were a more heartless person, she might think of her clothes and hands. The stains of rusty red blood that would be left there for days. The necessity to pour bottles of bleach through a small tub and scrub her clothes until she couldn’t feel the dry mess underneath her fingertips anymore. She continued her task, cutting the necessary lines, trying not to pay mind to the gurgles and wet pops of blood.

Blood splattered into his freshly plaited hair like he were a wounded white rabbit. Pitiful and sad yet still remaining grotesquely beautiful enough to make any good person sick at the sight.

Tolthe was far past restraining himself, or worrying about appearances. He was being gutted, his blood flowed through him like it were filled with shrapnel and ripping his veins apart, only to fill them with a burning chemical poison so burn the rest of the flesh away.

He looked up, searching for Eliana through the rust colored lenses his blood was filtering for him. Just for a smack of humanity, familiarity, something to keep him from going mad. But if she were a necromancer, simply performing another job, perhaps he didn’t want to see her face, and have business Eliana be the last one he saw.

He finally surrendered to his body and let out a desperately guttural groan of pure torment, fighting to keep hold of his sanity.

“Be quick, please.” He hissed, before his body throbbed in an allover piercing pain. He begged for it to be over quickly, begged her to go faster. He shouldn’t have been so proud, he should have welcomed unconsciousness and threw away the last moments, because these minutes certainly weren’t worth it.

“Eliana…”

The smell of blood was thick, hanging heavily between them. Was it sad, she wondered, that she no longer gagged at the sight and smell because she had become so used to it? Or was it just inevitable? His blood stuck to his pale blonde hair, like paint the color of strawberries splattered across the snow.

“I’m sorry. I must be careful with this.” She smoothed a hand over his hair, tacky with the blood that stained her hand and sleeve. She cupped his cheek, bringing him to look into her face. Like a lifeline or some odd comfort. “Vera sterk.” Be strong. A voice in the back of her mind, that hard voice that she leaned back on when the blood wouldn’t wash off and the images of cold, cut up bodies wouldn’t leave her at night, spoke softly. Do not pause. Do not hesitate. Your hand shakes and this will be all for naught. Be strong. Be strong. Be strong.

She pushed the knife into his gut without flinching, keeping her eyes on his.

“Be strong.”

If Eliana hadn’t used Tolthe’s native tongue to speak, he wouldn’t have settled over if she were asking him to hold on for a few moments longer, or if she were giving herself strength to finish him off.

The corners of his mouth jerked upward in a twitchy, amused grin, allowing his blood to cascade  out the sides and down the tense muscles of his neck and pool in his matting hair.

Unngh” He gasped when she removed her knife out from under all the torn muscles of his stomach. His breath was erratic and shallow. It couldn’t be much longer, could it? How much more would he have to endure? He found her eyes in the haze of his failing vision. She must have felt worse than he looked.

“It’s okay. Eliana. I asked for this.” He breathed.

If this had happened only a year or two before, she would have cried at the smile that stretched across his face. That stuttering motion followed by a wet gasp and pop. The blood spilled freely, nothing she hadn’t seen and felt before, but every experience was always different. Always personal. Always burned into her mind in a way that was deeper and crustier than dry blood stains or the stale smell of death.

She rolled the words around in her tongue, the pronunciation foreign on her tongue. The shape felt strange to her, the stilted words that she melted together and shaped into something soothing rather than awkward. Soft and sweet, spoken more like a ‘See you again’ rather than a death sentence.

“þitt stríð er lokið. Fara hratt í ljós, með the guðir leiðarljósi leið.”

Blood splayed from Tolthe’s lungs like beer being forced through his nose after a bad, but terribly funny joke.

“My Lady, while that was very kind of you, I don’t think I’m going anywhere.” He gasped through a fit of all encompassing laughter. He needed air, wheezing as he choked on his own blood, forgetting the pain for just a second.

“You’re much sweeter than you pretend to be.” He lost the last bit to lost air and failing organs, but he hoped Eliana heard it just the same. She was covered in his blood and for once it wasn’t himself he was pitying.

Eliana blinked, flinching backwards at the unexpected spray of blood, covering her in red raindrops. It was…strange. Weird. Insane. No one had ever laughed before, twisting the usually warm and opening sound into something red and black and red. She supposed she might have seen this coming. The elf prince was one to defy expectations, and she would have laughed herself if he admitted to being religious.

“Yes, but that’s a secret you take to the grave.” Without hesitating, she plunged the knife into his heart, her breath turning sharp as she let the spell slip between her lips. A call forth towards the dead, pulling and shoving and demanding before Tolthe could lose his heartbeat. She felt a cold air wash through her, familiar and terrifying all the same. His body slumped forward as she pulled the knife out, running her finger over the blade and drawing a sigil across his forehead.

“Go in peace, Tolthe Baltsersson von Staaten. You were one hell of company.”

“TOLTHE!” A throaty cry pierced the silence. An elf, not much younger than Tolthe was, stood in the door frame with horror plastered over his blood drained face. The only color remained over a fading burn cupping his sharp jaw, from ear to chin.

Vander.

“WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?”
-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

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Tolthe vs Eliana Pt. 3: Ready

Tolthe and Eliana 2Tolthe touched the braids as she twisted them without pulling at his scalp. His mother would have slapped his hand away.

With a deep exhale he decided to make progress on relaxing.

“Tell me about yourself.” He requested, a little too sharply.

She raised her eyebrow. She tied the elastic around his braid, pulling it gently.“Pushy. What do you want to know?”

“Everything. Take my time.” He protected that sharp edge to his voice because if it shattered, he’d be left with pleading and whining for more time. “Why are you a necromancer, do you hate it or love it, what’s your favorite pizza place in the city, why do you dislike leather pants, is it because you haven’t had a good look at my ass in them?” Tolthe rattled off a few of the essential questions for Eliana. He stretched his legs out in front of him and cupped her bum so she didn’t slide off when he shifted. He shook his legs out until the pins and needles dissolved and he could return to serving as a chair for his soon-to-be killer.

“I’m a necromancer because it’s interesting. Some people compare it to an addiction, the rush you get when you cast a spell and pull yourself through the veil of life and death, playing God with people’s lives. It’s certainly different. A better buzz than drugs or whiskey. I can’t say if I love it or hate it, it’s too much of a gray area to decide. My favorite pizza is Nino’s, leather pants belong on a stripper whose rent is due by the end of the week, and your ass isn’t that great, princeling.” She patted his cheek, her eyes widening when he cupped her ass, keeping her from sliding off his lap as he stretched himself out. “My ass on the other hand, it’s out of this world.”

Tolthe snorted and tugged at his lower lip with his teeth. “Agreed.”

His heart thudded while his brain thought if he let the conversation die, he’d go with it. “Have you ever been in loveHow much will you love killing meHow long will the high last?” He barrelled through the questions as if the more he asked the longer it would take for the minutes to tick by.

“Yes. Not at all. Sometimes for days, sometimes only for seconds afterwards.” She answered calmly, twisting his braid in her hands. One of them had to be in control of themselves when this happened, and it clearly wasn’t going to be him. “Are you scared?”

Tolthe dropped his head and glanced up at Eliana. He rolled his head to the side and sucked in his lip.  If he wasn’t able to prematurely bloody up his mouth, he had to find a new plaything.

“No.” He stated with as much clarity as he could muster. Well, he lied.

He slid his hands until the found the small of Eliana’s back.

“If you’re going to be a damn necromancer, you might as well enjoy it.” His voice caught and rasped in his throat.

“Liar.” Residue of the spell she had cast tipped her off, a slight nudge in the back of his mind. But what else could she have expected? There was no one who truly didn’t fear death, fear the unknown and mystery and pain of dying and leaving behind a million what if’s.

“I do enjoy it. The knowledge and flow of it. But I don’t enjoy killing those who don’t deserve it.”

Tolthe shrugged. He could have spit out that he did deserve it. The sour taste of the words stung in his mouth, but he kept them there anyway.

A faint buzzing sounded in Tolthe’s pocket.

The superficial glee stayed with him until he glanced down at his mini tablet sized mobile phone. Vander flashed across the screen. Overcome by sighs and rolled eyes, Tolthe leaned into Eliana and set the phone down on the table. He let it buzz. He stared at it. It started and stopped through three buzz spans and he stared at it the whole time.

He had looked at the phone for only a second before he put it down, staring at it like it held all the answers to the universe. “Not going to answer it?” She peered at the bright screen before it stopped buzzing. “Vander is your brother, isn’t he, the one who is barely alive? Don’t you want to speak to him before you decide to die?”

“He’s alive. More than barely.” Tolthe tutted. “He just had a nasty burn. It will heal within the hour. I could never maim my little brother.”

Tolthe watched the phone buzz. “No. Let’s just get this thing over with. How long is it going to take?”

“Maim your little brother? Did you cause that nasty burn of his?” She raised an eyebrow, turning away from the phone to stare at the blond elf.

“Preparation shouldn’t take very long. You’ll be out and passed before the sun sets.”

“I did. He was enraged, and he’s much more of a skilled fighter than I am. I needed him to calm down and he wouldn’t. So I shut him up.” Tolthe nodded with a wistful stare at nothing in particular.

“Okay, Necromancer. Do your thing, prepare me.” He demanded with the slightest tremor.

“Rightly so. I think anyone has the right to be angry if their brother gave them a burn.” She gave him a significant look, leaning back slightly to give him a better look. She leaned back, pulling her bag forward and taking out the necessary tools. She twirled the knife in her hand, watching the silver glint in the light.

“Ready?”

“No. Two things. Firstly: I burned him AFTER he was being a murderous lunatic. Secondly…” Tolthe snaked his hands on either side of Eliana’s face. He met her lips with his in the innocent and sad final kiss of his life. He breathed her in, the toxic sweetness of her scent, drove him mad. He filled his lungs with her sweet scent and kept it there so he might hold on to her as he passed. He savored the warmth of her skin and the taste of her lips and weighed the pros and cons of going further. Alas, he decided to stay true to his Skaftafellen Elvish roots and honor her. He broke the kiss to accept his fate.

“Ready.”

-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

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Tolthe vs Eliana P.2: Trading Energies

Tolthe and Eliana 3Tolthe 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

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Tolthe vs Eliana P.1 : Who killed the elven king, and why is his son kissing a necromancer?

Tolthe And Eliana Scene 4

Eliana couldn’t remember the last time she had to take the time to pick a safe place to meet someone. Coming from a community where children ran around without a care of what could happen to them as long as they came back relatively clean in time for dinner, the need for self defense and warnings never meant anything until she came to New York. Those pieces of dropped advice and precautions only stood out to her now, after everything. Always make sure the door is locked, both when you leave the house and when you enter it. Never walk home alone at night, always call a friend or a cab and leave one hand on the door if it’s a cab. When meeting someone for the first time, always choose some place safe and between borders. Close to people and in a neighborhood you are familiar with, so that if you need to run or escape, there is always a safe route out.

She chose the study room on the second floor of the campus library. Safe, secure, and capable of giving enough privacy to go over the more delicate matters of the meeting. The request came out of the blue, sometime on a Tuesday evening after her shift at the music shop. But who was she to deny a chance to use her magic and make money out of it? The elf prince, so desperate to bring someone dead back that he would call her rather than move on. He must have something to prove.

The study room was as empty as she expected it to be. Eliana cleared the contents of the table, placing things back to their rightful shelves before flipping the reserved sign on the door. She had come to the meeting place early to prepare herself. Check every crevice of the room and set up what she needed. Notebook, pens, thermos of tea. One was never too prepared.

Life in The City was inherently different for Tolthe. Even with his elven ears pointing out of his braided white-blonde hair, and being an absurdly tall young man, adorned with all the finery an elven prince should be used to, no one fucked with him on the streets of New York.  Most passersby glanced down when they saw him, or parted when they met him on the street. He was probably one of the lucky few who could take the subway and stop the moment he reached the top of the stairs to the street and not be hollered at for being a jerk-tourist-idiotwhoneedstolearnhowpedestriantrafficworks. Normally, Tolthe would spare a moment or two to revel in the disturbance he caused among humans, but today his hands were slightly trembling, and he was ignoring phone calls from his mourning family.

He shrouded himself with invisibility, a mages talents were needed for the most asinine rules these days. Ever since the 9/11 attack, fat rent-a-cop’s stood at every entrance to nearly every building in The City, and most certainly every university. If you didn’t have a photo student ID, you were staying on the street through all your most important classes. Tolthe had taught himself a perfect shrouding trick for this very reason.  Universities were decent playgrounds for pompous princes.

He got lost in the building. With all it’s steel beams and winding staircases, he was nursing a budding migraine when he finally found the library.

Eliana checked her watch when she finished preparing the study room. Five minutes until they were due to meet. Belatedly, she realized that the elf might not know where to meet her, despite her instructions to find the back study room. Sighing, she pushed herself out of the room, waving a simple protections charm around the room as she left. She had a vague idea of what he looked like, drawing some pompous image of an elf with pale blonde hair and long limbs. It wouldn’t be too difficult to find the lone elf in the midst of grumpy college students. Elves had a tendency to dress a mostly like regular human beings, but at least one traditional elven garment, mostly leather. Lots of it. It would be amusing if it didn’t cause people to constantly separate like the red sea whenever they see them.

The library was relatively empty for after school hours, with the customary group of obnoxious sophomores who alternated between screaming about the tv shows and movies they watch and crying over their imminent grades and the lone wolf book worms who always had more caffeine in their veins that actual blood.

She walked past the stacks, finding her way to the top of the staircase, flicking a reveal spell towards the general direction of the steps that revealed one particular elf wandering around. He looked as pompous as she thought he would, with a dark hoodie and an honest to God pair of leather pants. She didn’t think those existed out of gay clubs and bad romantic comedies. She leaned against the steel post, crossing her arms with a small quirk of the lips.

“Lost?”

Tolthe startled into a scowl.

“Found, now. I suppose.” By this time Tolthe’s head was spinning. He ruled out iron poisoning despite his dizziness because he was newly tattooed and thus protected. “Shall we talk business?” Tolthe stomped down where he hoped the witch had just come from because he wasn’t going to turn around and he wasn’t going to allow himself to be corrected. Unless he really was as exhausted as his body was trying to say he was, in which case he might be swayed.

Eliana pushed herself off the post, her heels clicking quietly against the floor. She walked by Tolthe, reaching a hand out to grab his elbow and pull him towards the study room. He looked close to going mad and Eliana didn’t think he would take kindly to walking in on the obnoxious sophomores bemoaning their Chemistry courses. She let go of his elbow after a moment, relatively sure that he wouldn’t wander off like some lost puppy with tattoos and leather.

“You look like a lost freshman, Legolas. Something spit in your hair gel today?”

She tilted her head back with a grin, her blonde hair bouncing with every step she took. She pushed open the door to the study room, taking down the defense spell at the door before letting him in. She poured herself a cup of tea, sitting down on top of the table, crossing her legs without a thought.

“So. Talk to me. Who did you fuck up?”

Tolthe pinched the bridge of his nose and cast a glance at Eliana.

“You’re confident I’m the one who’s done the fucking?” He fingered the zipper to his hoodie, pulling it up and down until the urge to turn off all his nervous ticks took over.

Eliana raised an unimpressed eyebrow, setting her cup down at her side. “No one requests a meeting with a necromancer lightly. Bringing someone back, it isn’t a decision made quickly or without a long thought process of weighing pros and cons. And people like you, elves and royalties and those with silver spoons fitted into their mouths, you people don’t try at necromancy because you are bored or missing someone. You fucked up. Badly. And now someone is dead and you need them back.”

She leaned forward, tilting her head to the left, watching the elf quietly. He really did look like he was half way down the road to madness. A taint to what must be a usually elegant image, all straight lines and sharp edges, eye catching and handsome in his own right, even with the tattoos and nose and disgruntled rich kid expression on his face. He was shaking minutely, a tense hold to himself that screamed for help.

“So, I’ll ask again. Who did you fuck up.”

Tolthe’s chest tightened like a strained guitar string. He instead let out an exasperated sigh before he snapped.

My lady,” He started, thinking better than to use Necromancer or Witch, as if he had little respect for her talents. “–I would imagine a woman as yourself has work pulling at the hem of her dress for attention, enough for her to swat at minor details, so I will graciously remind you with a hint of annoyance that I am Tolthe, son of Baltser, King of the Skaftafellen Elves.” Tolthe dropped his hands to the false wooden table and the performance along with it.  Talking to this witch and forcing an equally annoyed crinkle to her lightly freckled nose wasn’t his ultimate goal– and hissing at her through his clenched jaw was giving him a throbbing ache on either side of his face.

“So when I tell you my father is dead, please understand, my desperation comes from our falling kingdom and the ruins of my family, and our people.” He chopped at the table with his hand. He was a few steps from begging and in his near madness he had nearly forgotten that he once cared about such appearances. “Let me rephrase: I request your help. If you would be so kind as to give it, my father is dead, and I’d like it very much if he weren’t.”

Eliana watched him carefully, her dark blue eyes following his performance with slight amusement. She could have felt pity for him, for the slipping mask that was quickly falling to reveal someone very, very out of their depth. She might have, if she let herself. But talking to enough grieving people who were only holding themselves together for the sake of being able to sacrifice themselves for a loved one, she didn’t let herself cry over anything.

But the Elf king dead. She wasn’t surprised that she hadn’t heard about it before, not with how secretive elves usually are about weaknesses.

“Do you have someone to pay for the execution? No matter how much you would like for something to happen, it can’t without someone paying out the price of it.”

“Name your price, whatever the price, name it, it shall be met.” Tolthe raked his hands through his hair. His long fingers pulled at one of his braids. The cornsilk strands tangled around a single ring — a family crest of pure silver. Tolthe’s patience unraveled. He ripped the knot from his head raked his hands through his hair once more. “What’s the price?”

“It’s more than just money, you know that, yes? Money is to get someone to do the job. You need more for it to work.” Eliana liked to give people the benefit of the doubt and believe that they did some kind of research as to what was necessary to bring someone back from the dead. Even if said person was a quickly falling apart Elven prince with a tendency to only take yes for an answer.

She leaned towards him, leaving a small breath of space between them. “Someone needs to die. Do you have a life to give away in exchange for your father’s?”

Guð fjandinn það” He cursed under his breath.  “Really?” Tolthe suppressed a laugh. Well that idea was certainly shot to hell. He smoothed his hair and let his brows unstitch and his mouth fall into its natural pout. “You’re no necromancer. You’re just displacing energies. You’re trading.” He leaned back in his chair, amused by his failure. Who would he kill for this? Vander? His mother? No. Better let his father stay dead and live with the consequences.

“I thought you were the best.”

And there it goes. Any shot of pity just falling through the air. “What do you think necromancy is, princeling?” She reached out to grab his chin in her hand, squeezing the pout out of his expression. “There is a delicate balance between those who live and those who have passed. That scale is not something for spoiled boys to play with because they regret. You don’t steal from death. You trade and barter. And sometime death cheats and takes both. Sometimes not.”

She leveled a look towards him, raising one manicured eyebrow. “I am considered the least moral of the necromancers in New York. Which means I am the best, always. No one wins a game by playing fair.”

Tolthe brushed his lightly stubbled chin, precisely where Eliana’s fingers had gone and rearranged his face. He knew what she was doing, stamping out the downward curve of his lips which he couldn’t do anything about.

“You’re labeling yourself least moral or is that something others say about you when they think your pretty little head is turned?”

“People whisper very loudly when they gossip. But you tell me. What do people say about the pretty little girl who stabbed a man to death and spends her time bringing the dead back in exchange for the life of the grieving?”

She already had some idea, but the topic of discussion when people gossiped always knew less than anyone else about what was said, no matter how quickly the information flowed. Murderer. Sinner. Heartless. Bitch. People were very petty.

“Nothing I’ve paid mind to. It’s easy to run your mouth when ignorance focuses on only the shittiest bits of the truth.” Tolthe folded his arms on the table in front of him. “What do you want them to be saying?”

Eliana leaned back, crossing her arms. “They don’t know anything about me. That pretty girl. Poor girl. Mad girl. I want them to respect me and damn him.” I want them to be in awe at my abilities, rather than to fear them. I want them not to say a thing at all.

“Well then. Damn him! That horrid kúkalabbi. Damn him to hell!” He cared not if he sounded patronizing. He was utterly serious, so that was all that mattered. “You know, people say unsavory things about me as well.  Normally I get that I’m a spoiled brat prancing around like Legolas.” His words tugged a smile to his lips as they left his mouth.

“Nice of you to say, but you have little idea of who ‘he’ is, don’t you?” At least he tried, which was enough to make her want to smile. Just a bit. She felt her lips quirk up, laughter slipping through her mouth. “That’s because you are. You’re wearing leather pants.”

“Ah but I make far better faces in the background than he did.” Tolthe stared off, wide eyed in mock confusion for a second more than he would have if he had thought about it properly.

“As for the damned man, gossip is gossip. Is it not? Does anyone else besides he and you know what happened? It stops none from whispering loudly about you. I can damn him if I please.” He looked down under the table and admired the buttery leather trousers that fit him like a glove. “Now you’re not just offending my trousers, but the trousers of my people. The sweeping generalizations are pounding like waves.” He cast a side glance at the blonde, hoping she realized he was joking. Most people were exhausting and too daft to tell when he was joking.

“No, but he’s dead. So I’m the only living soul who knows what happened, but his hunting team and everyone else in the world seem to think they do. You do as you do. His soul is suffering already.” She followed his eyes down to the damning pair of pants. Really. It was offending that he could walk around wearing leather pants and look good. They fit him too well. She laughed at his joke, shaking her head. “I have no apologies. Leather pants belong in gay strip clubs and bachelorette parties. Although,” she turned deadpan, staring at him with a very serious expression, “I will take payment in sex and strippers.”

“Mmm. Let me set the scene for you: You’re sitting across from a flower of a girl. She’s sweet looking, innocent even, with wild, curling blonde hair which seems to catch light even under horrendous buzzing fluorescents– Do you see her?” He reached his hand to his face and patted down the pout he knew was there. “ Right, so, she sits there, her legs wrapped up in her skirts and she tries with fervor to convince you she is an amoral hussy, the most amoral hussy pretending to be a necromancer. Laughable really. Because all the while she’s looking up at you with the most delectable freckles splattered over her nose. She’s far too cute to be a fearsome, amoral necromancer, don’t you think?” Tolthe leaned back on his chair and threw his long arm over the next plastic chair. “Then she says. Just wait for this. It’s the punchline, it’s a good one as well. I can’t make this up.  She says, she takes payment in sex and strippers! You might see where I have trouble believing you. Unless you don’t own a mirror, or are blind.”

Eliana threw her head back and laughed. He made her sound adorable, more like a faerie than a person. Sweet and beautiful and completely innocent of any chance of wrong-doing. How utterly wrong. “Don’t you know better than to judge someone by their looks?”

She slipped her pocket knife out of the slip in her skirt, flicking it open to cut a long line across the back of her hand. She let the blood drip down onto the floor, murmuring under her breath. “Egredimini ad me.” The blood disappeared as soon as it arrived, wisping off the floor and into smoke as she felt a familiar pull that always came with blood magic. Taking her in and flowing easily from herself.

She smirked, reaching over and grabbing the collar of the elf prince’s hoodie to pull him forward into a slow kiss. She licked into his mouth, cupping his cheek with her free hand. The kiss turned softer, ending with a final press of lips before she bit his lip.

Feeling used without objection, Tolthe snatched her hand and crashed a rough kiss into Eliana’s lips once more anyway. He breathed into her lips, “For good measure of course. To be sure I’ve offered enough of my body for your – voodoo.”

-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

Next

Loser Elves and Sassy Witches

tolthe elianaI am so excited to announce that the first installment of “When They Met” is in the works!

I thought I might tease you with an illustration of the characters from the first collaboration! I got to work with a lovely writer by the name of Cara who has just brought the story to life by introducing my Tolthe to Eliana.

I promise, you’ll get to meet them soon!