Sunday, May 20, 2007

Beginning of the End

Azrael bolted awake, drenched in cold sweat and warm tears, remnants of a nightmare swirling in his head before dissipating. He sat upright as he regained control of his breathing, quick pants lengthening into deep breaths, his heart calming. He tried to remember the nightmare, but all he could seem to remember was the terror. An impending sense of doom invaded him, and even the soothing sounds of a cool night in the mountains did little to ease his mind.

He dressed hurriedly, unzipped his tent and worked on the fire. When he had it blazing, he put on some coffee, lit a hand-rolled cigarette laced with just enough weed to keep him in check. He dubbed them "lacies", and since law was scarce in these parts lacies were pretty much legal, but also nearly as scarce. Unless you really know where to look, a talent he shared with rogues, outlaws, and the other undesirables. But it was his ability to blend in, to adapt, to befriend those who had been banished by what was left of society that kept them alive this long. Azrael likened himself to a chameleon, able to change his appearance at the drop of a hat, become someone else without thinking, with the brain power (despite the lacies or maybe because of them) to keep it all straight. Blessed with a photographic memory and an uncanny though sometimes fleeting ability to read minds, Azrael felt almost invincible...almost.

With the cigarette extinguished but his breath still coming in white puffs, Azrael walked to the stream, splashing cold water on his face. The coldness felt good after so long before the fire, so he did it a couple more time for good measure, drying his skin on his jacket. He was not conventionally handsome, but rather quite ordinary. A square chin, one hazel eye and the other ice blue, brown hair, his whole being marred by the scars of many battles, most of which he won. No, at first glance a woman would simply walk past him, finding him almost brotherly in appearance. But if he smiled at them, genuinely smiled, followed by deep rich laughter rippling across the miles or so it seemed, they would turn around, wondering what was so funny, what could they have possibly missed? If introductions were made, if he spoke to them at length, they wouldn't want to leave him. He oozed charm and chivalry in the sincerest form, from the Ruler's daughter down to the Butcher's, he made them all feel as if they were the only one in the world he could see. And just when they thought they had him wrapped around their finger, when they were convinced he loved her and her only and no one else, the chameleon would change, adapt, and disappear, leaving them with warm memories and a cold bed.

He heard Lily even before she knew he did, stirring awake, careful to leave Madison sleeping as long as possible. Madison was a handful, worse when cranky, and no one needed that. Moody and sullen, you'd have thought she suffered so much more than her 16 years permitted. Lily had stumbled across her quite literally four years ago when Madison hid in a ditch, narrowly avoiding becoming someone's slave in and out of bed, a fate that befell a lot of the young women who were found wandering alone. Lily hesitantly became the girl's surrogate mother, knowing she couldn't live with the guilt if she hadn't. Madison barely spoke the first year, and when she found her voice she refused to disclose anything about where she had come from and what she had endured. Lily didn't push; she had her own demons haunting her, and the last thing she needed was the weight of the girl's demons as well. They stumbled across Azrael a year after that, and the duo became a trio, traveling together and keeping each other safe. He dubbed them Fire and Ice--Lily with her flaming red mane, Maddy with her short white 'do. Both fell in love with Az immediately, and although he would never admit it he had fallen quite hard for Lily. If he was that kind of guy he might even say he loved her, but he prefered the unspoken bond they shared.

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