Shadow of the Phades


Exerpt from 


Book Two: Erebis Series


Faye became aware of her lover’s presence gradually.  He read to her, his voice a loving murmur that brushed at the edges of her awareness like waves lapping against a lake.  But like the tide coming in, it pushed her toward rising levels of consciousness and she could feel the pain again, the anguish born of an emptiness in her mind that was deeper and harsher than the aquatic abyssal plains of Nereus.  Shuddering, she’d retreat back into the far reaches of her mind and closed her heart.

I can’t.

He brushed her long hair.  The strokes were rhythmic and soothing as his hands brought her closer to the surface of awareness – how she missed the touch of his long, fine-boned fingers.  But they tugged at her, pulling her senses and her consciousness back to here, to this small stone prison room where she was alone, her mind no longer shared.  She stared blankly at the cascade of her auburn hair as the strands pooled in her lap with his brushing – it was longer than she recalled.  She reached up to touch it, but stopped before her treacherous hands could brush across that spot on her collar and feel what was no longer there.  What would never be there again.  She wailed, and the walls came blissfully back, thinner now, but they were still enough and she slid away from the awful sensation of being alone, wronged, her mind a ragged waste where Mischa used to always be, bright and loving and...

Don’t make me remember!

He held her.  This she loved the most, the steady rise and fall of his narrow chest beneath her cheek, the soft white-blond down of his beard brushing her forehead as he tucked her head beneath his chin and slept.  She was held like this long ago, so very loved, but she had been much smaller then and the chest soft with maternal curves, not the flat planes of her lover.  She knew that she would never be held that way again.  Her mother had been ripped away from her and now there was a hole in her heart so large that she could barely breathe.  Rage filled her, burned her skin where her blood ran hot against it and she wanted to hurt her brother suddenly, fiercely.  But she quailed before her fury as if some part of her knew that her brother was not the only one who deserved the full force of her retribution.  The ever-thinning veil of her walls returned while a betraying tear trailed down her cold skin.

Oh Goddess, what have I done?

His persistence pierced through, bit by bit.  She stood and walked to the small stone table in her chamber to sit while he fed her fruit and soft cheese instead of feeding her in the hard, empty bed.  Her mouth watered for the food, so she kept doing it, but her legs throbbed for days just from the effort of five shuffling steps.  Perhaps he was right. Food would help strengthen her legs. 

But for what purpose?  Others tried to make her eat, but she always refused.  And even though she didn’t look at them, she knew there was condemnation and disdain in their eyes.  But never in his.  She looked across the table into his storm-grey eyes and saw only tenderness and love.  And something else: pity.   Loss, sudden and absolute, pressed against her chest. It was hard to breathe, so hard.  Once more she fled. The mental shields were tattered but still there.  Just once more, just this one time more, she fled behind them.

Behind the walls, it was easier to ignore the rising sense that she was to blame, that she’d done something unforgivable.  She could shut out the phantom feel of a lamkee’s jewel-encrusted shell and the ache, that deep pit-of-her-stomach yearning, for anything that even remotely brought back the reminder of that small, solid weight at her throat.  She shuddered and knew somehow that she’d done irreparable harm.  She dodged those images, those shapes and swirling frenzy of action and screaming and masses of armed Warders acting to ease her ache.

            Goddess, I miss you.

Today he lit a wood fire in the fireplace. She felt the skin of her brow furrow slightly as she frowned at this. She loved fires, but for some reason she knew there shouldn’t be one here. This was not her room – she knew that now. There were no plush florx down pillows on her massive bed, no shimmer of light through the Oragarn crystal decanter she always kept on the heavy wooden dressing table next to the window.  There were, in fact, no windows in this room whatsoever.  But there was a fire, one where there shouldn’t be.  Because on a world of stone, wood was a luxury to burn for fuel and she was no longer in a position of power or wealth.  This too, was part of her loss.  But the coals tinkled as they fell, the sound reminding her of the Helian chandelier that hung by the balcony doors in her mother’s office.  Someone must have paid for her to get a fire.

It’s been burning for quite some time if the coals sound that hot.

Her lover sat in a meager silar chair across from her narrow bed, his leg draped negligently over the arm, his hands loosely holding his reader tablet as he stared into the flames. Beneath the wisps of his pale blond hair his angular face was still, yet somehow more expressive and sadder than she’d ever seen it.  Her heart beat a sudden thump against her chest at the realization that anyone else would have stopped coming to see her long ago.  She loved him – had always loved him.  But the pain – will the devastation ever heal?  She looked for the fog, to escape the new and hateful taste of self-recrimination and the old haunt of the hole where half of her soul was ripped out.  Just once more let me hide!  But the walls and tattered curtains of her mental defenses were gone and her plea yielded nothing.

Suddenly, as though he sensed her thoughts, he looked up and saw her looking at him.  A smile bubbled behind his bright storm-grey eyes and erupted across his mouth in a knowing curve of his lips.

“Faye,” he said.  He set the tablet on the small reading table next to him, stood up and crossed the room in a single fluid move, his cape flowing behind him as though it was staged.  But of course she knew it wasn’t staged, this was just how the world flowed around him.

“Medraut,” she said.  Or, she tried to.  Her voice – a powerful tool she had always taken for granted – was unused and failed her.  No sound emerged.  He took her hands and pulled her from the bed to stand before him.  Her legs trembled, but they were stronger now that she had been walking to the table for meals with him, so with a little effort she remained upright.

Medraut,” she rasped softly.  She heard the words so she knew that she actually spoke aloud this time.  His smile grew wider – its luminescence so out of character for him that she couldn’t help but smile back.

He reached both hands out to cup her face, his eyes devouring hers, searching her face for something.

“There you are,” he murmured and bent slowly to kiss her upturned lips.  She sighed into his mouth, felt the tickle of his thin goatee against her chin, and closed her tired, tear swollen eyes.

Medraut curved his body to hers – he was only a few inches taller than her – and released her face to wrap his arms around her waist protectively, tenderly.  Faye slid her hands up his narrow chest, surprised and pleased at how her heart ached in a good way, now that the walls were down and she allowed herself to feel.  She snaked her hands up and around his neck to hold him closer as she pressed her small breasts against him.

She felt a jagged, hard surface brush against her skin with searing cold/heat/throbbing as she clasped her hands at the base of his neck.  She felt the familiar sensation of cold living crystals pressed at angles against the tender inside flesh of her wrist.  They began to vibrate, a soft hum of harmonics touching her senses with unheard sound that, once yearned for, now caused excruciating pain in her mind and soul.

Oh Goddess, it’s here.  He brought her here!

Faye recoiled from him, but he wouldn’t release her waist and the slim, sharp legs of the phade nestled at the back of his neck brushed her fingers as she tried to pull away.

And then she remembered.

She felt the helplessness and terror as she sat by her mother, Ailaine, while she lay dying, her teeth smeared red with blood from the poison in her body.  Faye screamed in rage as the memory of Randale’s betrayal came flooding back and she snarled, her fingers curling viciously in Medraut’s hair as she remembered plunging the dagger deep – so deep – into Randale’s back as the Rectory shattered around them all.  But worst of all, Faye felt the twisting pain as part of her soul was ripped from her when Mischa was destroyed, a small obsidian crystal the size of her fingernail the only thing left to mourn of his remains. As the sobs wracked her body, she relived the crushing blackness that flowed in to fill all the spaces where his constant presence had been, her mind and pain hiding behind those blessed walls that were his parting gift to her as his life winked out of her awareness forever.  But her walls were all gone now and so was he – her phade, her other half – and Faye’s knees buckled under the onslaught as she felt Felt FELT!

Medraut flowed to the floor with her, his arms never releasing her waist, and settled her against his shoulder as her pain and tears poured out of her.  Somehow she sensed his phade as she disentangled herself from the nape hairs of his neck and dropped from him in flight.  There was a soft thwacking sound as she landed on the stone table.  She shuffled her wings back under the grey and onyx jewel-encrusted halves of her shell and settled into stillness.

It was a sound Faye recognized in every fiber of her being and the echoing emptiness of her mind threatened to overwhelm her again.

“Mischa,” she whispered, her throat aching with old loss turned new.

“Hush, love,” Medraut murmured as he rocked her gently.

The tears came again, but this time there were no mental shields to hide behind.  And now she remembered all their names. 

She would never forget them again.  Not even the ones she was responsible for.  After a time, when there were no tears left to cry, Faye sat up and looked into Medraut’s face.  He had aged.

“How – long – ?” she asked, coughed, and tried again.  “How long have I been in this damnable place?” she shivered as she spoke.  Her fingers plucked at the plain but heavy fabric of her dress.  It was soft to the touch and the color of un-dyed linen.  Not altogether her worst color, but certainly not her best.  Still, she knew it was better than prison garb and she was grateful that Medraut had brought it for her.

“Nearly a year,” he said quietly.

“Goddess!” she said, shocked.

“Here,” Medraut shifted underneath her, “feel up to moving back to the bed?” He didn’t wait for an answer, just stood and then scooped her up.  So, she’d lost weight, too.

He set her down as though she might break.  Faye felt an indignant comment rise up, but she didn’t have the heart anymore to voice it.  Medraut piled the few pillows she had been allowed behind her back and then tucked the extra blanket around her legs.  Once she was settled he sat gingerly on the side of the bed.

“Warmer?” he asked.  Faye nodded.  She was, and found herself grateful for it.

“What’s happened?” she asked.

“Oh, you know,” he shrugged and looked away.  “Life. Not much, frankly.  Politics.  Compounding interest.”  He shrugged again and turned his penetrating gaze back to her.  “I didn’t think you were coming back,” he whispered.

“Oh!” the air in her lungs rushed out.

“After Mischa… well, you were never yourself, no matter what you said,” he shook his head.  “But then your mother – and that horrid business at the Rectory…” Medraut saw her fingers, still plucking at her dress, and folded them into his hands.  “I’ll get you a proper gown, it’s criminal to see you in such a state, they--”

“Stop, love,” she said and pulled a hand free to press a finger lightly to his lips.  The thin fringe of moustache parted around her bare nail.  “It’s more than fine.  I know its far better than prisons allow and I love that you got if for me.  I am sure it was quite the fight to get them to let me keep it.”

“Actually,” Medraut cleared his throat, “It wasn’t me.”

She arched her brow and waited.

He looked her in the eye.  “Talin made them dress you warmly and well from the beginning. They don’t even know I come here.  Well, one person does, but I pay him very well and he has no clue that it’s me.  He thinks I’m… you know, with you being beautiful and catatonic and all…”

Faye wasn’t sure how she felt about either of those facts.

“Well,” she finally said.  “Well, that’s good then.  And it’s very warm, the dress.  And clean.”

A small smile crept across Medraut’s face.  He pushed a stray length of her hair back behind her ear and stroked the heavy braid that draped over her shoulder.

“Hungry?” he finally asked.

She realized that, for the first time in a very long while, she was.  Faye nodded.

“Right then,” he said and stood up.  “I will have my man send something up straight away.  Shall I return after they’ve cleaned up?  They don’t come back much after the evening meal.  I can stay here tonight.  If you don’t mind – you know – Char, that is,” he gestured to the shimmering hulk of his phade where she sat silently on the table top.

“I don’t mind,” Faye said quietly.  She did, but she minded more the idea of being alone.  And while seeing Char frayed the edges of the wound in her soul, it also felt comforting to see another phade.  And Char and Mischa had shared so much, too – what must she feel now?

“Ok then,” Medraut bent over to kiss her tenderly.  “Try to act groggy or they’ll have a horde of people in here pestering you with questions.”

“But there will be questions,” she whispered, knowing Talin wouldn’t wait two seconds to confront her once he knew she was cogent.

“Yes,” he said, stroking her hair.  “But we’ve got tonight to sort it out.  And Talin is on Aeolus at the moment, so you’ll be spared that discussion for a few days at least.”

Faye shook her head.  Even bound to a phade, it was still impressive how he always knew whatever detailed information was most pertinent to the moment.

“Is there anything that you want?” he asked, standing. “I can bring whatever you need as long as Char and I can take it back with us when we leave.  If they find anything here that indicates my coming and going it will complicate things immensely.”

She shook her head.  “I’m fine,” she said.  “Really.”

Medraut stood there, his face radiant despite the exhaustion and grief etched in the new lines around his mouth.

“Go,” she shooed him out the door.  “And get food for yourself as well.”

“But of course,” he said, picked up Char, and then stepped through the wall.

Faye counted to twenty, then counted again for good measure.  When she was sure he was truly gone she carefully swung her legs over the edge of the narrow bed and pushed herself up to stand, the cold of the floor radiating through the leather soles of her rough slippers.  Slowly, she wrapped the extra blanket around her shoulders and made her way to the empty silar chair where Medraut had been reading.  Making herself comfortable, Faye picked up his reader and smiled a wicked smile as she hacked into the message network.


© Barbara E. Hill 2020