Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 30

As much as he wanted to go to Rowen, the first place Kristoff stopped was the governor’s office.

"Kristoff?" Lissa jolted her head up from sheaves of paper on her desk, pencil in hand. "I didn’t expect you. Were you out working?”   

"No, well, I wasn’t clearing a heat spell…I need to see the governor," Kristoff said. Lissa paused at his tone, meeting Kristoff’s eyes for a moment before she headed to Lorana's office. She beckoned when she returned. "She'll see you now. Is there something wrong?" 

Kristoff shook his head and walked past her, closing the office door behind him.

 Lorana, seated at her desk by an enormous window overlooking the ocean, waved for him to take a seat. “Report, Stormlord,” she said. “Is something going on with your apprentice?” 

Kristoff ground his back teeth together, resisting the urge to tap his foot. This was his governor, and the leader of all the Stormlords. He took a breath, then spat it out. "The heat spells over the southwest are far worse than we think," he said. "People are...people have died. We don't act fast enough. We didn’t act fast enough last time.” 

Lorana closed her eyes as if pained. "I know."

"You know?!" Kristoff boomed, leaping up from his seat. “You know people died because we were too slow?!”

            Lorana’s eyes narrowed. "Kristoff, you may be powerful and have a student of your own, but you're only twenty one. Barely removed from your training. Before you shout, listen to me."

Kristoff stood, anger and shock simmering on his skin. The sight of the graves wouldn't leave his mind.

Lorana’s voice was smooth. "There are currently seventy-five storm lords currently residing on this island. Of those, only fifteen have the power to dispel moderate heat spells on their own. The others require various amounts of help. Of those fifteen who can dispel alone, all have innate talents-lightning, or working with frozen air, or working in dry air, or only being able to work with ocean water of a certain temperature." She lifted a hand. "You, for example, have the power create hurricanes, but are not nearly as effective in cold climates."

Kristoff nodded. He could see where this was going.

"I have to prioritize. And sometimes, dispelling a heat spell over a city of a hundred thousand is more important than dispelling one over a village of three hundred." She closed her eyes again for a moment as though the words hurt. They probably did. "Furthermore, the heat in the southwestern wastes is approaching uncontrollable levels. In two dozen years, maybe less, I predict that region will be lost."

Lost. “Like the regions lost already? Like Darsea?” Kristoff's heart twisted for Rowen. What would it be like, to be completely alone, a refugee from a dead people? The Darseans had fled from their homes ages ago. Darsea was…in the south. “The heat is spreading, isn’t it?”

 "It is best that the people there realize that fact and leave, rather than relying on us," Lorana finished, meeting Kristoff's eyes. "Now if you still want to shout at me, you may."

Kristoff realized then how many gray hairs Lorana had, and how wrinkled the skin around her eyes was. “Do all Stormlords know?”

“They all figure it out. They have to. I am surprised you hadn’t yet, Kristoff. The world is dying, and we’re its last line of defense. We’re fighting a war against the environment, and in war…we lose people. We have to make hard choices. Sometimes that means delaying saving a village to save a city. Sometimes that means letting nature take its course, and giving the people there reason to leave before its too late.” She sighed. “That village should have migrated north years ago.”

Kristoff wanted to shout at her, to argue, to repeat the same points he had before. But it was pointless. He knew better than anyone how hard everyone worked, and how common heat spells were.

And there were so few students. If things went on like this, they would lose—not just one region, but the world.  

“I’m sorry for this, Kristoff. But we must keep working.”

Kristoff nodded, turning and leaving the room without being told.

He had been an idiot. Dazzled by his own power, he had been convinced that he was a hero, a savior. A god, like the villagers had called him. But he was just another man using whatever talents he could to stave off nature, the same as any engineer or sailor. And he could fail. He had failed that village, for three weeks, while people died. He had failed it before, and Rowen’s parents had died.

No wonder Rowen hadn’t seemed to trust him when he had said they saved towns and villages before death could occur. Rowen would despise him, and all of them.

But Kristoff had to tell him. The last thing he wanted would be for Rowen to find out the same way Kristoff had, years in the future, living in a bubble of ignorance like a fool. Kristoff would be honest with Rowen. He owed him that much.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 29

Rowen sat on the couch in the house that afternoon, the sheaf of papers on his lap and the charcoal stick in hand. Volkes hadn’t returned, and the only candle burned low in the corner. He was tired, but he had to practice his letters. He was so close to being…maybe not normal, but to communicating. He just needed more practice. He had to convince himself of that. Soon, he could share his thoughts with everyone.

But instead of letters, as he drew the charcoal over the paper he found himself imagining scenes, likes the ones in the paintings. They had all been so beautiful, brush and paint on canvas, and he wished he could draw the same. He had drawn small things in the dirt with his father, guidelines to show where water could be found or arrows for direction, but they had been fleeting. Paintings would last.

In his mind, he imagined Lucas. The young blacksmith’s son, blond hair bright in the unrelenting sun as he lifted and carried rock that his father somehow made metal out of. He had delivered pans to Rowen’s parents. He had been so different from Volkes, despite how similar they looked. Lucas was kind—he would never have left Rowen on the beach alone.

The charcoal wouldn’t create the wondrous colors of the paintings he had seen, but the image in his mind began to form on the paper, flowing lines and shading. Lukas, at his door with a smile, a silver pan for water collecting in his arms. Behind him, small in the distance, he drew the scrub brush. Then a frown covered his face when he remembered the bitter taste of the pit seeds on his tongue, and he scrubbed away the marks with the back of his hand.

“Hey, don’t erase it!” He jumped, turning in his chair. Elise stood over him, her eyes wide. “Is that Volkes?”

Rowen’s face heated. It wasn’t just him that thought they looked alike. He shook his head.

“It looks kind of like him, but younger.” Elise narrowed her eyes. “Another notherner, I guess. You’re a really good artist, Rowen!” she suddenly shouted. “I didn’t know you could draw!”

Rowen shrugged. Elise scooted a chair across the floor and sat down next to him, peering over his shoulder. “If it’s not Volkes, is it someone you know?” Rowen didn’t know how to answer that. “Is it someone from home?” He gave a small nod.

“Aw…” her smile shrank a bit. “I’m from Linland, but I was really young when they found me. I don’t really remember anyone from my home. I remember snow, though.” Rowen tilted his head, then reached over to pat her on the shoulder, a consoling tap.

“It’s okay.” The moment of gloom vanished as fast as it had come upon her. “You’re lucky to remember. You know what it is we’re saving. All I really know is the Storm Lord’s island.”

Rowen stifled a grimace. He wouldn’t call himself lucky. If he had a choice, he wouldn’t remember home at all.

The lead ball of fear returned to his stomach when he remembered that Kristoff would visit there. No, it was getting late—he may even be getting back by now. And he’d want answers.

He turned the page of the sketchbook. He never should have drawn that in the first place. Instead he looked to Elise, then back to the paper and drew the letter A, then back to Elise and raised his eyebrows.

“You want my help?” When he nodded, Elise grinned. “Sure thing. We’ll have you writing messages in no time at all!”

Rowen bent his head, writing carefully. Thank yu.

Elise clapped her hands. “See!”

Rowen smiled. He could do it. He had to write to Kristoff.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 28

People walked or ran past Rowen, and he smiled at an old couple who waved as he walked past. He turned down a floral path, and was greeted with a small market, people proudly displaying all sorts of wares and others flocking around wooden stalls. These must be the Darsean traders Volkes had talked about. 

Rowen stared as he drew closer to the displays. Wooden booths were set up in a ring around the clearing, and people milled around them. A group of men pointed at a display of glass bottles filled with liquid, much like the one he and Volkes had drunk from yesterday. 

"Try it," a man urged, his strong voice carrying over the crowd. "Firewater, from the southernmost reaches of Pearlen." 

"Beads!" a woman called. Her skin was dark, like Sharon's. "Beads of jade, from old worlds lost to the heat!" Women crowded around her stall, where she displayed colorful glass and jewelry that shone in the morning sun. 

Rowen moved through the pushing crowds, taking in the sights. The traders displayed things as precious as gold and silver to strange contraptions made of metal that moved on their own when you wound them. Colorful fabrics hung from ropes, and an earthy scent led Rowen past strips of salted meat. 

He finally stopped when he saw a stall on the fringes of the clearing. Instead of objects or food or drink, there was just color on canvas.

A red, scorched desert stretched into the distance below an empty blue sky. Rowen walked closer, staring. The dirt swirled in the dry breeze, but of course it was just the stroke of a brush. 

"You like it?" A man stood from his chair, moving toward Rayen. "This is an old painting, by my grandfather." 

Rowen nodded. When he stayed quiet, the man added, "It depicts the southern wastes. No one lives there, now." 

Rowen almost shook his head. This was home. His old home. Until now, he hadn't realized he missed it. 

That was foolish, he knew. They had sacrificed him, left him for dead. His parents were gone, and so was Lukas. There was nothing there for him. 

But his fear of what Kristoff might discover that day brought back the memories. He could still remember the dry air, the swirling dirt soft under his feet, and the times he and his father had taken shelter from the baking noon sun in the tunnels, drinking handfuls of water from a new well they had found. 

“Are you going to buy?” the man said, his voice gentle. 

Rowen shook his head. He moved away, face hot. 

“Hey now, wait. It’s alright.” The man waved him back, sitting back down in his chair with a thump. “No need to worry. You can look all you like. A fan of art?” Rowen gave a careful nod, and the man swept out an arm, indicating the other paintings that ringed the stall. “These are paintings of our travels. They’ll give you a tour of the world.” 

Rowen walked closer, peering at the paintings. A wall of water rained from a cliff. The ocean stretched ahead, the night sky and stars reflected in the water. People in impossibly complicated, fancy clothes strolled through a town square. A group of people slit the throat of a huge furry animal. 

He had never seen art like this. Drawing, writing…only the village elder could do it. He and his father had drawn maps in the dirt, simple things that marked where water could be found. But the mass of colors and the snapshots of the world they showed…

Rowen finally realized just how little he knew. 

“What’s your name?” The man asked. “It’s not often I get someone so appreciative.” 

Rowen turned, his stomach tightening with sudden anxiety. He tapped his throat, then shook his head. 

The man drew down his eyebrows. “Lost your voice?” 

When Rowen nodded, the man shrugged. “That’s too bad. My name is Jameson. Here.” He turned, grabbing a sheaf of blank paper and a charcoal stick and handing them both to Rowen. “What’s your name? I always like to know people who appreciate good work.”

Rowen’s fingers shook as he took the stick, his mind flicking over his lessons. He could do this. He had done it before, in class, ignoring the snickers of one of the younger students who always thought it was hilarious that a grown man couldn’t write or read. 

He traced out the letters as his teacher had shown him. He thought they looked wrong, childish and not at all like the flowing letters other students could make. But it was his name. He pointed to it, looking up and nodding. 

“Rowen, eh?” Jameson said, looking over his shoulder. “You keep that sketchbook, Rowen. You in training to be a Storm Lord late in life, huh?” 

Instead of nodding, Rowen pressed the charcoal to the paper, reviewing his lessons as he wrote. Yes. His stomach flipped in excitement at the sight of his own writing. He could communicate! Or was starting to, anyway. 

“Excellent. Maybe in a few years you’ll have your own paintings to show me. Storm Lords travel all over the world too.” Jameson clapped him on the back. “Show me a picture of something we Darseans can’t get to.” 

With a trembling hand, Rowen wrote out thank yu. I wil. It looked wrong, and he knew it, but the man nodded in understanding anyway. 

If he could write…he could explain to Kristoff. The villagers were wrong.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 27

The ocean was huge. 

The water lapped at Rowen’s toes, pricks of cold that multiplied and rushed up his legs as the water burbled up the sandy beach. The sand reminded him of his village after a windstorm, where sand from the south would blow up into the village and nearly bury the brush. The women would always complain as they swept it from the streets. 

The only thing that swept this sand was the sea, ebbing and flowing. It reflected the morning sun, a riot of color and an alternation of cold and warmth. It reminded him of Kristoff. 

Kristoff, who today would discover what the villagers believed he had done. 

“Happy there?” Volkes moved next to him, Rowen’s face heating again as he put his mentor and his fears out of his mind. He moved his gaze over the northerner’s body. He wore no shirt now, only a pair of shorts, and the sight brought back vivid memories of the night before. Volkes’ lips, his mouth, his powerful arms as he had pushed Rowen down on the bed… Rowen shivered. He wasn't sure he had liked being pushed down like that, but what Volkes had done after that had more than made up for it. Rowen rememembered how he had shuddered, then shuddered again, his body succumbing to a level of pleasure he had never been able to bring himself. 

It was confusing, though. Once it was over, Volkes had sent him back to his room. Rowen had no idea if it would happen again, or even if Volkes had liked it…although the taste of the other man’s seed on his tongue suggested he had. 

At least he was with Rowen now. That was probably a good sign. 

“C’mon Rowen.” Volkes pulled him by the arm, interrupting his thoughts before they could make him desire Volkes all over again. “Do you know how to swim?” 

Rowen shook his head, his eyes widening at the thought of immersing himself in such a large body of water. It made the stream he had bathed in with Kristoff look like nothing, and the waves made it worse. 

No one in his village swam. No one would waste water that way. 

“I’ll show you.” Volkes began walking into the water, dragging him by the arm. The water swirled in blue and white foam around his ankles, and Rowen dug his heels into the shifting sand, his heart suddenly pounding. The stream with Kristoff had not had waves that tried to tug him further in with every swell. 

“C’mon.” Volkes tugged harder, nearly making Rowen stumble. “It’s safe, trust me.” 

Rowen shook his head, taking a step back. Volkes’ eyes narrowed. 

“C’mon, are you frightened? Didn’t you at least bathe in that desert of yours?” He snorted. “There’s nothing to be frightened of. You’re going to be a Stormlord. You can’t be scared of ocean water.” 

Rowen shook his head again, eyes wide. He couldn’t swim. He didn’t want to risk being dragged away. 

Volkes rolled his eyes. “Look.” He ran out further and dove, submerging himself completely in the water.  Rowen’s skin crawled at the cold as another wave rushed past his ankles, and he took another step back, heart racing. Where was Volkes? 

A few moments later the blond surfaced with a splash, his head small among the bobbing waves. “See?” he shouted. “It’s nothing to worry about.” 

Rowen stayed still. The wet sand was cold beneath his feet, and he couldn’t muster the will to walk any further toward the water.  

“Damn, if you’re scared of a little water, I can’t imagine you ever learning to fly,” Volkes said, swimming closer and then sending small gysers of ocean water around his knees as he stamped toward Rowen. “You’re really going to just stand here the whole time?” 

Rowen paused, then nodded. 

“Suit yourself. I’m going to swim out to Angel Island. See?” he pointed to a dash of green in the distance. “I’ll see you back at the house tonight. If you decide to man up, you can meet me out there.” The words stung, and Rowen frowned. Volkes just smirked. “If you make it out there, I’ll make it worth your while.” He leaned down and tilted Rowen’s chin up with a forceful hand, then shoved his tongue in Rowen’s mouth. Heat mingled with shock flashed through Rowen, and he gasped when Volkes let him go. 

“See you,” Volkes said. He ran out, cold water splashing Rowen’s skin, and then dove into the waves. Within moments he was nothing more than an addition to the white foam of the waves, and then a small shape out on the ocean. 

For a moment, Rowen considered joining him, the taste of Volkes’ lips fresh on his tongue. But logic stopped him. 

He still couldn’t swim. Volkes hadn’t even tried to teach him. And Kristoff wasn’t here. 

He was alone again. The realization bit harder than he had thought it would. 

He watched the waves rise and swell, and finally left the beach. The sand had heated in the morning sun, and he stepped carefully, smiling when he saw a younger boy darting over the sand, dashing into the water to avoid burning his feet. It was hot, but it did not compare to the searing sands of his village in summer. 

He walked without purpose for a time, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of the island without the pressing need to be anywhere. In the back of his mind, he wanted to enjoy it while he could. If Kristoff believed the villagers, and thought he was a murderer…

No. Rowen shoved down the lead ball of fear. He had to focus on other things.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The StormLords part 26

Kristoff sat on a mat weaved from the scrub plants that grew outside the village, sipping the water Alain gave him. The elder sat across from him, silent.

The inside of the hut was sparse, the mat he sat on and a writing desk carved from stone in the corner the only furnishings. A hanging of what looked like longer versions of the scrub plants blocked the entrance to another room.

27 dead. In one heat spell.

The stormlords rarely ventured far into the southwestern regions, as they were perilously close to the areas of the world that were already uninhabitable, ruined by the constant heat spells that no one, not even a group of Storm Lords, could break. But he always performed his duties as soon as they were assigned, which was supposed to be when the heat spells were first sensed. A heat spell that killed 27 people…

“How long did it last?” Kristoff asked. Alain looked up. “The last heat spell.”

“It only broke about a week ago,” the man said, gaze distant. “It lasted nearly three weeks.”

Kristoff set his water cup down, his stomach spasming. Three weeks. This village, and Rowen, had suffered for three weeks. Alain watched him, his gaze unreadable.
He had to make it up to them. He had to make it up to Rowen.

“Alain?” The elder met his eyes once more, tilting his head at Kristoff’s tone. “Can you tell me more about the heat spells here? What are they like?” He needed to know.

Alain sighed, the creases in the skin of his eyes and face suddenly more prominent. “We had another traveler come here, about a year ago, a northerner. He has said that the spells here are the worst he’s seen. I lost my wife to one, two years ago. She was the village elder, then.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s just the way of the world. It gets hotter each year, the heat spells get worse. This village is dying. There is nothing we can do, is there?” He turned hopeful eyes to Kristoff, and anxiety thrummed through him the Storm Lord.

“Was it always like this?”

Alain’s gaze grew distant. “No. We had grass here when I was young.” A small smile formed on his face. “We used to supply travelers with pit seeds for their journeys.” Kristoff perked up. “They would come through here on their way south. But soon they stopped coming. Travelers came back, and they said that nothing was there. There were mines, long ago, but the heat overtook them. Now it’s taking us, and we’re running out of pit seeds.” He shook his head ruefully. “The storms aren’t enough.” His green eyes met Kristoff’s.

The storm lord swallowed. “I…what are pit seeds?”

“I’ll show you.” Alain stood, motioning for Kristoff to stay where he was. He moved over to his desk, a drawer scraping as he pulled it open, and came back with three small seeds.

Rowen really was a good artist. They looked exactly the same.

“These were the reason our village was prosperous, once,” Alain said. “The brush that grows from our village. We thought we were blessed, once. We prayed to the Goddess of the brush.” Kristoff kept his face neutral. For all the religions he had heard of, praying to a deity of something that clearly supported these people was one of the better ones. “When you eat these,” Alain continued. “It makes you feel hotter, but they keep you alive.”

It clicked in Kristoff’s mind. Rowen had taken these to stay alive. “What…is there a drawback?”

“None, unless you take too many.” Alain closed his fist, the seeds dissapearing. “You lose the power of speech. I have only seen it twice.”

Kristoff’s heart sped up. This was it. This man knew what happened to Rowen. “Tell me about them.”

 “The first was a traveler, back when I was a child. He took a satchel of seeds with him on his way south. When he returned, he could not speak.” Alain fell silent, staring at Kristoff.

“And the second?”

Alain’s mouth turned up, but it wasn’t a smile. “The second was a young man. I am not sure what happened, but it was during a heat spell a year ago. His parents died. Some in the village say he stole their water, but no matter what happened, he took too many. He never spoke again.”

Kristoff swallowed hard. “What happened to him?”

Alain did smile this time. “How about you tell me, Storm God? Are you here because we sacrificed him?”

Kristoff’s heart thudded hard in his chest, his mouth suddenly devoid of moisture. Storm God. That was what notherners called them, and superstitious people from the more advanced countries of Linland and Pearlen.

Stories and rumors traveled far. And Kristoff had no idea what to do. Talia had never instructed him on anything like this. Did he go along with it?

Not to mention what he had said. Sacrifice. That explained the state Rowen had been in. Not a murderer, or a thief. Kristoff did not believe for a second Rowen had stolen his parents water.

These people had sacrificed him, a young man, to bring a storm. If Rowen had not been a storm lord himself, he would have died for nothing.

Kristoff knew what he had to do.

“Yes. I have come to give you a warning.” Kristoff stood from the mat, Alain bowing his head. The elder didn’t tremble or quail, making no sound, and some of Kristoff’s anger ebbed. This man knew that what he had done was wrong.

But the warning still needed to be given.

“If you ever sacrifice anyone again, there will be no more storms. And without us, the goddess of the brush will abandon you.”

Alain didn’t move. Kristoff left the house, heading immediately to the edge of town. Forget the pit seeds. These people needed them more.

He wanted to get out of here. Back to Rowen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 25

The sun had barely begun to turn the sky purple when Kristoff summoned a small storm to take him up over the ocean.

Storm Lords were no stranger to walking around in foreign places. But usually they visited large cities, where a strange face wasn’t unusual. Rowen’s village was tiny, one of those rare places where it was most likely everyone knew everyone else. A newcomer would stand out, especially one who arrived with no rations or bags from a long journey. Kristoff wished once again that Rowen’s village wasn’t smack in the middle of what seemed like uninhabitable desert.

The storm took him into the air, a small thundersquall that strengthened as he flew over the ocean. Tendrils of air supported him as he flew for miles, stopping once at the small island where he had taken Rowen to relax and refresh himself before he continued on.

The storm weakened underneath him as he moved over the desert, the dry air and parched ground sucking the moisture from his power. He kept moving, summoning what little humidity was left in the air, before he saw the thatched houses that marked the village. The place he’d found Rowen.

He landed immediately, sending the storm rushing ahead of him. There was not much moisture left, but what little there was would surely be appreciated by the townsfolk.

Taking a deep breath of hot, dry air, Kristoff walked on.

Warmth seeped through the soles of Kristoff’s flimsy sandals from the sand and clay underneath. He knew that farther south, the land would be humped in dunes of sand, but here the grains merely collected on top rust colored earth. His steps made a soft crunching noise, as though he walked on cold snow. Small plumes of dust billowed from his feet when he walked past an area where the sand was deeper, and he left flat-soled footprints.

A lizard, tail wriggling, scurried past him and then dissapeared into a hole in the ground. The heat of the day grew as the sun mounted the sky.

Small bushes sprouted from the ground the closer he got to the village. They were small, stunted things, and Kristoff didn’t recognize them. Instead of leaves, they had spines, and around most of them the ground was scuffed.

Not scuffed. A footprint was embedded in the sand near the scrub, and he saw more as he walked. They led toward the village, but he saw no sign of whoever had left them.

The day had moved on toward noon by the time he arrived, forehead beaded with sweat. The storm he had sent had passed over the town, the stratus clouds thinned into nothing as the sun beat through them. There was no unnatural heat that marked a heat spell here, but it was certainly hotter than Kristoff was used to.

He paused. The footprints were more obvious here, many of them gathered around mounds of fresh dirt. Sticks were hammered into the ground next to them.

Kristoff’s eyes widened. Graves. Dozens of them, coming all at once into his conciousness as he kept looking. His throat tightened.

He hurried into the village, the scrub brush vanishing in the face of tiny red clay houses with thatched roofs. They stretched into the distance, no rhyme or reason to their placement, although a few were built so close that their roofs touched, forming a shady passage between them. No more dust skirled under his feet as he walked, the ground baked into fired clay and swept clean. In the distance, a man walked between two houses, a bucket on his shoulder.

Each house had a strange gutter on the edge of the roof, which drained into a bucket. They were clearly desperate for water here, and he wished his small storm had brought some. The thatched roofs of each hut spread far beyond the edge of the house, providing an overhang and a promise of shade.

For a moment, Kristoff stood in the village, staring at the small houses and feeling the heat of the day. This was where Rowen was from. This had been his student’s home. He wished he knew which house Rowen had lived in.

“Hello.” His heart leapt, and he turned toward the source of the voice. A large older man with graying hair walked toward him, carrying a water flask. Despite his age, his eyes were clear and green, the same color as Rowen’s. “Where have you come from?” The man stopped close, peering into Kristoff’s eyes. “How far have you come? Do you need water?”

“I….No.” Kristoff stepped back, the man’s brow furrowing. Kristoff bit the inside of his lip, struggling to remember his story. “My supplies ran out just outside town, but I am well. I am…looking for someone.”

“I am Alain, the elder of this village. Who are you looking for?”

Kristoff’s mind reeled. The elder, already? The other man he had seen had vanished, and the doors to the houses were closed. “Where is everyone?”

“It is the heat of the day.” Alain’s mouth turned up. “Why would anyone be outside?”

“I…” Kristoff swallowed. He needed his information. Then he could go. “Could I speak with the village doctor?”

Alain frowned, his eyes leaving Kristoff’s face. “I am sorry. She died recently, in the last heat spell.”

Kristoff’s blood turned to ice in his veins despite the heat. The graves outside the village. There had been dozens of them. Fresh ones.

The heat spell. “How many?” he whispered.

“27,” Alain answered. “The heat spells this year have been very harsh.”

27 dead. Kristoff’s stomach turned, his words to Rayen coming back to his mind. Preventing them from getting to the point where they killed anyone? No wonder he had looked angry. Kristoff was surprised Rowen hadn’t laughed in his face.

He had failed. He had failed Rowen and he had failed this village.

“Are you alright?” Alain leaned closer. “C’mon inside, out of the sun.”

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Wednesday Briefs: The Stormlords part 24

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Part 24

Rowen followed Volkes, the blond not speaking as they walked. Rowen shivered, a cool breeze bringing with it the still strange scents of deep forest and the salty edge of what Rowen knew must be the ocean.

“Enjoying yourself?” Volkes dug into his pocket for his key. “Not used to it all yet?”

Rowen gave a sheepish smile and shook his head as they walked up to the front door.

“It took me a while too when I first came here. I was ten.” Rowen hadn’t expected that. “In the north, where I’m from, we didn’t have this much forest and greenery. Certainly not the varieties you’re seeing here.” He lit the torches inside, not bothering with the sitting room. “It was mostly snow and cold. Heat spells were different--when the snow started melting, we knew the storm would come.”

Rowen raised his eyebrows, hoping Volkes would keep talking. He wanted to know what snow was.

Instead Volkes headed up the stairs, keeping the lamp lighter in his hand. “C’mon, Rowen.” His blond hair gleamed in the dim light. “Come up to my room. I want to give you something to help you celebrate.” He grinned. “Ever had Darsean beer?”

Rowen paused on the first step. He was beginning to realize what kind of celebration Volkes had in mind. The blond waved the lamp lighter, the small flame on the end dancing. “C’mon, Rowen.”

            Skin prickling with unease and no small amount of anticipation, Rowen headed up the stairs and into Volke’s room, waiting in the doorway while Volkes lit one sconce in the corner. Clothes and books lay strewn on the floor, Rowen stepping carefully. Volkes had more things on his floor than Rowen had ever owned in his life.

Volkes opened his dresser drawer and pulled out two glass bottles. The light from the sconce shone through the clear liquid. “I got this from the Darsean traders. Best stuff there is.” No one had ever mentioned Darseans to him, and Rowen tilted his head.

“The traders.” Volkes shook his head with a snort. “How do you think our island gets supplies? The Darseans are seagoers. Live and die on ships. Apparently heat spells destroyed their home country way back. Undispellable ones.” He waved a hand. “They ship food and supplies to the island from around the world.” Rowen nodded. Suddenly the plethora of foods in the mess hall made sense.  “You can ask Sharon more about them. She’s Darsean.”

Rowen gave a weak smile, and Volkes tossed him the glass bottle.

“Well? You know what it is now. Try it.” Volkes grinned, popping his bottle open with his thumb.

Rowen followed suit, the strange wooden top falling onto the floor. He almost moved to pick it up, but Volkes waved a hand. “Forget it. Just try it.”

His tongue curled at the taste, and he tilted his head back, letting the fiery liquid fall down his throat. It burned, and he swallowed fast, coughing a few times. The aftertaste was smooth and cloying, with a root-like flavor Rowen couldn’t place.

            Volkes whistled. “You didn’t gag or anything. Impressive.” Volkes tilted his head back and downed a portion of his own bottle, then stood up and set it down on the dresser. Rowen’s skin buzzed as Volkes came so close Rowen could smell the beer on his breath.

            “So, Rowen. You want to celebrate or what?”

It suddenly occurred to him what Volkes meant, his words about men who liked men flashing through his mind.

A chill breeze blew through the window, but it wasn’t the cold that sent goosebumps down Rowen’s neck. He had never been with any man, with anyone at all.

Kristoff came to his mind then, and with him the anxieties of the coming few days. No. He didn't want to think about the past, not now.

“Rowen? Do you want to celebrate with me or not?” Volkes asked again, his tone more demanding this time. He reached out and took Rowen’s wrist, his grip firm. “Yes or no?”

He looked so much like Lucas, and yet not. Rowen’s mouth went dry, his heart speeding up at the thought of finally doing something about the desires that had plagued him since he had first seen the blacksmith’s son. His desires for men, the ones his father had told him to be careful about.

But this was Rowen’s new life. It was normal. Even Kristoff liked men.

Rowen let his gaze rove over Volkes’ body. Warmth curled up his spine and quickened his breath. Volkes smirked.

“Yes, right?” He reached up to Rowen’s chin. “Either you are the lightest weight in history, or just really easy.” Rowen wasn't sure he liked his words, but they ceased to matter when Volkes’ lips met his.

Volkes’ were soft, but Rowen felt the tiny pinpricks of stubble, and Volkes moved his lips in such a way that Rowen was guided to copy it, molding his mouth against the other man’s. Volkes pulled with his kiss, as if nibbling on Rowen’s lips, and the sensation sent the curling heat into a burning flame.

“Do you want any more beer?” Volkes asked, breaking apart and leaving Rowen breathless. He shook his head, letting Volkes take the bottle from his hand.

“Have you ever been with anyone?” When Rowen didn’t respond immediately, he clarified. “Have you ever fucked anyone?” Rowen blushed hot.

“Well?” He moved forward, so fast that Rowen stepped back, bumping against the wall. Volkes put a hand on his chest, then trailed it lower, his lips turning up further as Rowen squirmed. He was hard now, his erection uncomortably confined, and he knew it was obvious.

“Answer me. Am I going to be your first?” Volkes didn’t move, his hand motionless an inch above the bulge in Rowen’s pants.

For a moment, Kristoff flashed through Rowen’s mind, and he pushed the thought away. He nodded.

Volkes broke into a victorious smile. “I’m going to make you feel good.”