Larind, Ari, and I went to go find Akalioa soon after. The Sourcerors, former or not, were both dreading what they might find, and knowing what they would find all the same.
All through the twenty-minute walk to her cabin—made longer by Larind’s limp—I thought not once of Liandros, my greatest friend.
I walked with my brother and my ally, elves all, to visit my sister who was no longer who she had been.
She was waiting for us on the porch, sipping at a small cup of hot water flavored with mint leaves. “Hello, brothers,” she calls to us. “Good to see that you deign to visit me, and bring an archer with you as well. How I enjoy the company of cripples; they can’t run away, so that makes it all the more fun.”
Larind’s hand unconsciously went to his back, shifting his cloak aside softly, his bow raising off the ground an inch.
“We wish to speak with Akalioa. The Akalioa, not the imposter who stands in her stead,” Ari calls, walking forward, his hands raised in a gesture of peace.
The woman throws back her head, her hair shining in the light. Unconsciously, cracks and snaps sound in the trees—male scouts shifting forwards towards the woman. Ari and I both glare at the scouts, our ears easily pinpointing their exact locations, brotherly instincts overwhelming us both. “She is still my sister, you realize,” I yell to them, the sunlight glinting off my rapier as I pull it a few inches from its sheath.
The scouts slip back again, more silently, flushing.
The woman smiles, looking at me “I see you still have feelings for me, Kelree. Mmmm-mmm-mmmmm. Love-love-lovely.” She purrs like a cat, her eyelids flickering.
“We need Liandros watching her,” Ari mutters, his mouth at my ear. “Even I reacted to that…that…that.”
I blush, Liandros popping into my head for the first time in a long time.
“Should we go get him, or how much longer do you two need to determine what’s wrong with her?” I ask, feeling much inclined to the latter. She was my sister, but there was something I was feeling, something I sensed in the air all around us that made me…want.
“We need to stay for a while. Gauge how far gone she is; she may or may not be so bad off that we can’t save her. If she’s fallen too far….”Ari tells me, laying a hand on my shoulder and tightening his grasp.
“She’s coming this way,” Larind tells us. “I won’t take my hand off my bow and bowstring, and never will my hands stray very far from my rapier.”
Straightening our backs, we watched the Sourceror approach us.
Her step was gentle and light, her eyes flashed in the daylight, her hair shone in the sunlight. Slowly, Larind’s hand fell away from the hilt of his sword, Ari’s hand lessened its grip on my shoulder—which I was very grateful for, because I was certain I had acquired several new bruises shaped like his fingers—and fell to his side, following his mouth’s lead.
I felt the same thing, too. There was something in the air, a dark and dangerous wildness that tempted and begged and demanded. Something that stroked and caresses our souls, promising release and ultimate power and control over everyone and everything.
Was it always like this?
Was the Source always this…tempting?
Four steps remained between my sister and us
She was coming closer.
And we wanted her to.
But, then, with a howl, Ari turns and flees, grabbing Larind and I by the hand and dragging us behind him. When Larind’s leg slows him, he lets go of my hand and switches sides so Larind staggers between us. Understanding Ari’s intentions, together we haul the skinny elf up into the air and continue running, fleeing her mocking laughter.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
We stop running when we reach my cabin.
Liandros is there, sitting curled on a bench, looking mightily offended and rather angry. “Ah, good to see that the most important person in my life, my best friend, decided I was worth visiting every once in a while. But, oh…” Liandros slows in his tirade, noticing my gasping companions for the first time. “Why did you have to bring the elf?”
“Which one?” Ari and Larind both cry out, neither sure whether they should be offended or not.
Liandros smacks himself in the head. “I really need to start hanging out with my own species….”
I walk up to my best friend in the world, and ask him for a smoke. Liandros glares at me, and tosses me one.
I ask for a match.
He gives me one.
This is rather awkward.
“Well, we may need to put you on watch duty of Akalioa,” Ari says, breaking the silence, “Males, including those who are related to her, have difficulty getting within her area of influence. I was hoping you’d be different.”
Liandros’ eyes narrow. He snorts, smacks the cigar out of my mouth, and stomps his way to our room, slamming the door behind him.
I glare at my brother. “What?” he asks me, raising his hands and taking a few steps back, “What did I do?”
Sighing and shaking my head, I go to see if I can calm down Liandros.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When things have gotten faintly more civil, the four of us sit down around the tiny dining table and talk. We share stories, laugh, drink coffee.
When we’ve all had our second—or in Larind’s case, eighth and in Ari’s case twelfth—cup of coffee, we get down to the more serious conversations.
“How big is their boat compared to our boat?” (Me, doing my best to find out about Ari’s past.)
“How many coffees can you drink in a day, Larind?” (Liandros, watching Larind chug his twentieth.)
“What is the best thing you’ve ever done?” (Larind, feeling rather cheery after so much caffeine.)
“How many girls have you kissed, Liandros?” (Ari, just being a jerk.)
Eventually we get to the actually serious conversations.
I think a time lapse sounds like a good idea, don’t you?
Cue time lapse!
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
When we’re crashed, the rush of caffeine ended, we turn—finally—to what we need to talk about.
I start the conversation after examining my storage of coffee beans—or lack of it, as they have managed to clean out an entire two year’s supply of the wonderful drug. Feeling rather annoyed—that supply had taken half a year’s salary, and had meant I couldn’t afford fruit for the next few months, either—I sit down at the table and eye them. Liandros is crashed in his hammock and fiddling with his knife and a block of wood, Ari is tossing a ball in the air and failing to catch it on the top bunk, and Larind is rocking back and forth, rubbing his eyes and humming in the bottom bunk. We’ve had way too much coffee, but we needed to talk, and talk now.
“So, how far gone is my sister?” I ask, slamming a fist down on the table to wake them up a bit.
Ari clutched his head, groaning. “Did you have to do that? I found your stash of wine when you went to the bathroom for the eighth time, and cleaned it out. I’ve never been all that good with hangovers….The elven metabolism is a wonderful thing….”
I blinked at him slowly. “I feel like mentioning something. That stash of wine and my storage of coffee beans took all of last year’s pay. I was going to have the wine on my tenth anniversary on board the ship. You, my dear, dear brother, drank most of both in one night. I am never going to invite you to my cabin again.”
“If you had mentioned that earlier, I wouldn’t have drank so much!” Ari yelled back at me, smacking himself on the head and wincing.
“I did mention it! I mentioned it five times!” I yelled back, taking a bit of satisfaction in the way he winced and held his head.
“Well, maybe you could’ve mentioned it louder, because I couldn’t hear myself think over Liandros’ drool hitting the floor whenever he looked at you!”
The room went silent.
The steady scrape of Liandros’ blade ended in a jagged cut.
Larind’s hand went reflexively for his rapier’s hilt.
I inhaled, drawing in as much air as I could.
I’d need it.
Slowly, ever so slowly, Liandros raises himself to his feet.
“Find yourself another roommate. I’m done here,” he proclaims, not looking at me, “You, none of you elves, want a silly gay human to deal with, so I’ll take myself out of your hair and go. Off the island. Out of the crew. Tell the Captain I quit. Feel free to tell him why.”
Feeling a single tear trace its way down my cheek, I watch Liandros Graceling pack his belongings into a single worn leather pack, swing it over a single slouched shoulder, and walk out of my life forever.