a Christmas gift for my braintwin
Angel pushed open his front door. “Honey, I’m home,” he called.
“Nice to see you, too, sugar,” was the response from the living room to the left.
Quizzically, Angel walked into the room and folded his arms. Skata was sitting in the largest wing back chair with his feet up on the leather ottoman, listening to a silver iPod. His head was nodding along with the music.
“That’s mine,” said Angel, wondering when on earth Skata had developed a taste for anything other than classic rock.
“I know,” said Skata. “You have terrible taste in music. Arctic Monkeys? Vampire Weekend – are you being ironic? And who is Cara Dillon?”
Something was very off.
“You’re…not Skata.” Angel shifted his jaw, watching.
The guy in the chair pulled out one ear bud and rolled his eyes. “And pro wrestling is rigged. Any other revelations?”
– No Dark Disguise
“Lander,” began Farr, but Kenna interrupted.
“Enough! He is not Lander.” She looked over her shoulder at Einar, who had cleaned one of his swords and placed it back its scabbard and was now wiping the other clean of the war-grim that clung to it. She knew he was listening; he was always listening, always paying attention, even when his actions suggested otherwise. “His name is Alaric, and he was the Crown’s wizard, the one who ordered the massacre of every child in Alacros.”
“All right.” I hand it to her, and realize she’s staring at my hand. I move the violin up and down, my fingers still curled around its neck. “Take the violin, Leila.”
She takes it mutely. “Calluses,” she says.
I look at my fingers. “Guitar,” I say. “So what?”
“I don’t have calluses anymore.” She groans and hops up onto another bar stool. “I’m going to have to get them all over again. Dagnabbit.”
“Suck it up,” I say. “Play something.”
“I don’t know. Mary Had a Little Lamb. I don’t care.”
Footsteps sounded on the stairs. The door opened and Skata stepped through, slamming it behind him and looking as if he had just gone through the battle of Bunker Hill. His profuse string of swear words ended with, “I hate bloodsuckers.”
Angel paused a beat before saying, “Ouch. On behalf of bloodsuckers everywhere.”
– No Dark Disguise
“You are an army, yet you hide yourselves within this cave like bears in winter, refusing to come out and help. You could have fought against the massacre, but instead you cowered behind these walls like children behind a mother’s skirt.”
Kenna spun on her heel and connected her fist with Farrien’s face as hard as she could. “How dare you! Bite your tongue, human, or I will cut it out.”
“You forget your own race! You, too, are human,” said Farrien with an angry laugh.
He takes the cup and lifts one eyebrow, looking at me with mock suspicion. He blows across the top, cooling it off, and takes a cautious sip. Then he nods. “Extra honey?”
“Of course.” I shuffle from foot to foot but smile to cover my nervousness.
Apparently, my acting skills stink, because he immediately asks, “So, what is it?”
“I bring you tea all the time!”
“Aha!” He holds up a finger. “So there is a catch.”
“Not really a catch,” I fudge.
“A caveat, then. A clause.”
I don’t know whether all lawyers use words like ‘caveat’ and ‘clause’ in every day speech, or just my Dad, but I’ve always found it endearing. Of course, I was probably ten before I knew what those words meant.
“I want to ask you to stay out of trouble.”
Angel turned to face the skin walker. “Wait, what?”
“I said, I want you to stay out of trouble.”
“Impossible,” said Angel, gesturing toward Skata. “He loves trouble. He wants to marry trouble and have little half-human, half-trouble babies.”
– No Dark Disguise
He was unruffled, there was no sign of anger or excitement with him. Then he looked up. “He also speaks of things which he knows nothing about. Better to keep silent, boy, than speak in ignorance.”
“What ignorance? You’re only angry because I am telling the truth you people won’t admit to yourselves! Northmen are supposed to be great warriors.”
“You would not know a great warrior if he split you from navel to nose,” fired Kenna.
I walk through the first floor – which is technically the thirty-ninth story, but it has two floors, go figure – taking it all in. It has an air of unbearable cleanliness, like their only requirements for a living space was that it be “sleek and fresh.” The wall in the living room is made of glass, looking over the city, across the tops of buildings and into the blue-smudged distance. There’s a Baby Grand, a 71-inch TV screen, a Greek statue that may or may not be real.
“Look.” Angel took a step forward and brought his hands together. “Why don’t you stick around here?”
He directed the question at Skinner, but Skata was the one who abruptly asked, “What?”
Skinner turned to face the vampire, searching his face. Angel let his face be searched; all the skin walker would see was a smile. “Great,” said Skinner finally. No questions, no bargaining. Apparently, he knew better than to look a gift horse in the mouth. “Which room is mine?”
“Hold that thought,” said Skata. He crossed the room, grabbed a fistful of Angel’s shirt, and pulled him out of the living room, into the foyer. Then he growled, “What’s your problem, huh?”
“You’re wrinkling my shirt,” said Angel.
“Are you nuts? You know we can’t trust him.”
“Whoa, whoa.” Angel eased out of Skata’s grip, his palms in the air. “Relax. Take a chill pill. Do whatever it is you do.”
“I don’t,” retorted Skata.
– No Dark Disguise
“We honor the fallen with fire, and with prayer,” she began. They were the words she had committed to memory but never thought to speak. The words Dagrun had taught her with firm patience when she was but a child. “May the fire burn away the mortal bindings from heart to name. May the prayer lift their souls to the halls of Elah. May their deeds be sung for a thousand years, and may the wind itself carry the sacred memory of these valiant dead. May it be so.”
The elven voices raised in heavy chorus. “May it be so.”
Kenna threw the torch and watched as flame joined with flame, licking the sky. A funeral pyre in place of the harvest fire.