About Me

On blogging

I actually really like blogging.

As a teenager, I religiously kept a Livejournal for years, posting something every. single. day. In a different life, I would have transferred those skillz over to a less angsty platform, and made a shot toward becoming a professional blogger.

In a different life.

But 2011 found me living out of a car, and once I saw the world from that angle, I never recovered from it.

Just as well, really, because in interim a number of blogger-culture quirks popped up that make my teeth hurt.

I don’t read many blogs now. A few years ago I enjoyed crafting blogs, until I realized that the quality of the actual crafts was dropping precipitously, while those popular bloggers were publishing how-to books that were teaching sloppy techniques. They didn’t care about the crafts; they cared about monetizing.

I’m enough of an arteest to believe that money comes second to artistic integrity. I won’t try to sell something that I was too lazy to put any effort into.

Sometimes I wonder how many other people care. I wonder how many other people are tired of vapid content generators that are concerned more about page views than connecting with readers. I wonder how many people are like me … if anyone.

I like blogging. I’ll probably start putting more energy into it from now on, simply because I’m tired of hiding who I am for fear of being hurt. I just refuse to be anything other than me, especially for a paycheck.

About Writing, Light Eternal

About Light Eternal

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I think that the best way to describe Light Eternal is as a Gnostic romance. Or, as my husband so succinctly put it, I studied up on Gnosticism so I could write trashy fanfiction about it.

I like fantasy romance, and most of my ideas revolve around the simplicity of two people in love. One of my biggest disappointments with the romance genre (and fiction in general) is that very few of them start with marriage, which, in my personal experience, is when I would say the real adventure begins. My novels don’t revolve around the question of “Will they get together?” but rather, “What are they willing to do to stay together?”

I also like magic and larger-than-life characters, so with a touch of amusement I would say that I ascribe to the “One-Punch Man” style of storytelling. The conflict isn’t about how they are going to be strong enough to win, but is instead an almost human interest exploration of what life would be like as the strongest, smartest, etc.

Light Eternal also contains a lot of pagan elements, including soul retrievals and spiritual parasites. The story is about gods and goddesses surrounded by a rich mythology, verging on spiritual fiction. Because there is a strong theme of Light versus Dark, there are a lot of Gothic and horror moments as well.

Finally, it is a novella about trauma, mental health, and dissociation. It illustrates the damage that traumatic events can cause, and the struggle to continue on with life afterward.

It is the best fictional Gnostic romance book out there!

Available for free with Kindle Unlimited

About Writing

On writing communities

I joined an online community for writers.

I confess that on an emotional level, it takes me back to being a teenager on Elfwood, trying my best to chummy up to some clique, and wondering why they just didn’t like me no matter what. After all, I was WAY more talented than any of them.

Now I realize that it wasn’t about admiring talent. They copied each other, and I was stubbornly myself. Cliques don’t like individuals.

I like to imagine that those people who rejected me years ago are now trapped in lonely and pathetic lives. That’s what you get when you sell your soul! Bwahahahaha!

I can say this here, because we aren’t among them right now: I don’t like writers. I have never once gotten along with one. However, I like readers. I LOVE readers, really, because they love fictional worlds and stories as much as I do. I feel a kindred spirit with readers. Writers have fragile egos and are always on the defense — they feel threatened by talent and hard work. They don’t like me either.

I fully expect them to utilize the reviews and rating system to attempt to bully me into conformity. I will likely never be featured as a top writer. I will probably abandon my account with enough time. I suck at fitting in.

So why did I join a community for writers?

Because my oracle cards told me that I need to step outside of my comfort zone, and I can’t think of a more uncomfortable place for me.

That’s why I joined.

About Me

Secretly

Secretly

I want to explode on the scene.

Blow everyone away with the enormity of my talent.

Declare to the world, “I was born to do this!”

But I’m shy, doubtful, and insecure.

Something like that, happening to someone like me?

Probably not.

But I like to fantasize.

About Me

Terror as an author

I’ll be honest, as a writer, letting someone read my stories is embarrassing.

Asking someone to pay to read them is mortifying.

I can understand why publishing houses became a thing. Hello, I wrote a book. I am now too embarrassed and mortified to distribute it. Ha ha ha.

Seriously, I don’t want to let people know what sort of things go on in my head. That’s why I’m quiet and shy. Just move along; you don’t know me.

But don’t really. I actually do want people to read my books. I’m just scared. What if people don’t like me? What if people do like me? I’m not sure how I’d handle either.

That’s why I’m a writer, I suppose. Fictional worlds are easier to navigate.

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Light Eternal

Light Eternal Chapter 2

Chapter 2

The motel room that Muriel walked into wasn’t noteworthy in any way – it was neither expensive, nor cheap, but still reminiscent of vacationing on a budget – with a slight musty smell and worn carpet – but it was clean and well-maintained. Muriel slowly pulled off her coat, revealing a pink sweater worn over a baggy white blouse, and hung it up on the coat stand near the door. She shivered slightly, hugged herself, and rubbed her arms, then turned up the thermostat on the heater underneath the front window before sitting down on one of the two queen-sized beds, where she opened her backpack. She sifted through it and pulled out a photograph of her parents and stared at it.

She had almost forgotten.

How could she forget?

Burning tears stung her eyes as she crumpled up the picture and threw it away in the small garbage can by the bed; she didn’t know why she had packed it in the first place. Trying very hard to hide any signs of crying, she hurriedly grabbed the bag and ran to the bathroom, locking the door behind her.

Aion stood straight and tall in the doorway as a frozen breeze blew past him and into the room, taking a moment to look at the garbage can, his face hard and unreadable. In his mind he was weighing something, considering it carefully, until another thought came to him and broke him out of his brooding. Then he reached into his pocket, pulled out the key-cards for their room, and put one down on the nearby table, before quietly leaving.

The hot steamy shower reminded Muriel of how cold she had been, and the contrast hurt almost too much to bear. She had to acclimate herself slowly, starting at lukewarm and gradually adjusting the temperature up, wondering when the prickling goosebumps that covered her skin would subside. There was something inside that was untouched by the water and heat, a sort of emptiness that kept her feeling chilled in the center of her bones. She couldn’t remember if it had always been there, but her skin was turning bright red from the heat, so she slowly turned the water off and stepped out of the tub.

After she wrapped herself up a towel, Muriel stared at herself in the mirror, water dripping from her sopping hair. Her face looked strange and unfamiliar, and she felt sure that it belonged to someone else. She didn’t like her hair, which seemed too dark and too short, even though it hung slightly past her shoulders. Somehow, that didn’t seem like her; it didn’t seem like how she would keep her hair. Her eyes were a pretty shade of hazel, but they had a haunted look that frightened her. She couldn’t think of why her eyes would look like that. She quickly turned from the mirror and rummaged through her backpack looking for clothes, but, again, it felt like she was intruding on someone else’s life. The jeans were too big around the waist, and she had to belt them to make them stay up. The blouses were all baggy, bland, and unappealing. She pulled on something pink, because it seemed like the most vibrant thing she could find, and she didn’t want to feel faded.

Exiting the bathroom, Muriel was surprised to see a burger bag sitting on the table next to the mini fridge. She didn’t realize that she had been in the bathroom long enough for the man to leave and come back, but she appreciated that he had thought to bring her food – he must have gone to one of those all-right places, because the clock next to the bed read midnight. Muriel reached into the bag and was shocked to realize that the food was cold; she slowly sank down into a chair, baffled at how that was possible. It had felt like she had been in the bathroom for only a few minutes.

How long had it been? She hadn’t checked the time when they arrived; now, she wished she had. She felt fuzzy and awful; a strange buzzing began in her head, carrying her focus away for a moment.

The door opened and Aion stepped in, pausing to take off his coat, but Muriel stared blankly ahead of her, not responding to his appearance. She looked listless, but he wasn’t surprised. He walked over to her and very carefully took one of her hands, watching to make sure that she didn’t flinch or look frightened.

“Do you remember me?” he whispered.

Her eyes focused on his face and she frowned, trying hard to grasp something that wouldn’t come to her. She knew that she knew him, but the answer of who he was wouldn’t come to her. “I don’t … know,” she murmured.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

She paused, alarmed that she didn’t immediately know. Then, with some relief, she found herself replying, “Muriel,” and didn’t give any indication that it felt like someone else had answered for her.

“Where are we?” the man asked.

That one seemed easy. “In a hotel room.”

“Where?”

It wasn’t an easy question after all, and she lowered her head, biting her lip for a moment to repress the urge to cry before muttering, “… I don’t remember.”

Aion gently stroked the top of her head, his fingers sending tingles through Muriel’s scalp and down her neck, seemingly satisfied, despite her inability to remember such simple things. “Go ahead and eat, and don’t worry,” he said gently. “You’re experiencing a fugue state, but it’s nothing to be alarmed about. You’ll grow used to them in time.”

She wanted to cry again, because his gentleness hurt in a way that didn’t make sense. To cover it up, she quickly asked, “How long have we been here?”

“About two hours.”

Muriel nodded and pulled out the burger, peeling off the wrapper before she slowly took a bite and swallowed. Cold hamburgers were not as good as fresh ones; she clung to that thought because it was inane and meaningless – anything to keep herself away from the frozen pain that was trapped inside her chest, hiding just under her ribcage. “What was your name again?” she asked after a moment.

“Aion.”

“Aion,” she repeated softly. “Am I going to be okay?”

“I promise that you will be.”

Muriel leaned forward and wrapped her arms around Aion’s chest, resting her head against him. The warmth from his body felt good, and reminded Muriel that she was still alive. She could hear his heart beating, and it eased tension out of her muscles that she hadn’t realized was there. Her cheeks were wet with the tears that she could no longer hold back, but it seemed safe to cry while hidden in Aion’s shirt. In turn, Aion wrapped his arms around her and whispered, “I’m going to make my failure right.”

Time stopped, and the bond between them was reawakened. Muriel remember that she had known Aion from somewhere, but the truth still eluded her. Her mind felt blocked from her by a black wall that couldn’t be penetrated, keeping her locked in the moment without a past or a future. But her heart still remembered, and she wanted to stay with him forever. She closed her eyes and drifted off into a deep sleep.

After laying her down in bed, and tucking the blanket around her, Aion stood looking out the window, thinking.

His failure.

He had allowed himself to be too trusting, and weak, and that had ultimately prevented him from protecting Muriel like he had promised he would – and she had paid the price. He wouldn’t allow that to happen again.

But he wasn’t the only one who failed on that night. He retrieved the picture from the waste bin, brought it over to the light, and studied it for a moment, before it burst into flames and floated away as ash. They had broken their contract, and they would not escape the consequences.

Light Eternal

Light Eternal – Chapter 1

This is my latest novel. I spent some time wondering what, exactly, I wanted to do with it now that it was completed, and decided on publishing it online for free reading. After all, I’m one of those rebellious, individualistic, creative types, so it seemed fitting.

Enjoy.


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Chapter One

Frost covered the dead leaves that lay scattered along the edges of the sidewalk, catching the light from the full moon so that it sparkled and glowed with a blue tint; it was the same shade as Muriel’s frozen breath that hung heavily in the air around her, stinging her lips with every breath.

Muriel wore a gray polyester coat with a pink wool scarf, that only partially protected her from the weather, and faded blue jeans with torn and muddy hems that dragged on the sidewalk and hooked underneath the thick heels of her cheap black boots. She couldn’t remember when her feet had gone numb, and she didn’t know how long it had been since she left home – she had left her cellphone behind to prevent herself from being found. On her head she wore a cabled beanie that she had knitted herself out of chunky gray wool, covering her soft wavy brown hair, and her cheeks were flushed beneath red, teary eyes. Muriel’s hands were bare, and almost purple from the cold, but she clutched the straps of her gray backpack with grim determination to never let go. Everything she owned in the world was inside that bag.

It was going to start snowing soon; she could feel it in the air. Somehow, it seemed, that was the only thing that she could feel.

She had to keep going. She didn’t know where she would stop, but that didn’t matter as much as getting as far away as she could. If she stopped, Muriel felt sure that would be the end of her, and the ache in her chest wanted to keep throbbing for as long as it could. As she crossed the street, she could feel how slowly her numb and tired legs were carrying her, and she wanted to start crying again, but she had to keep going.

An unexpected sound, guttural and unearthly, caught her footsteps and forced her to a halt. She was standing directly underneath a streetlight, and couldn’t make out anything in the darkness beyond the circle of light surrounding her, but the sound sent a different sort of cold piercing through her, hurting her throat and her heart, choking and silencing her. It terrified her more than the possibility of freezing to death out there alone. She couldn’t see the source of the sound, but she knew it was there, watching her. Waiting.

Suddenly, it felt as if her body was being ripped apart, and she fell to her knees, unable to scream out in pain. Did she still know how to breathe? Darkness pulled at everything inside of her, taking her sight, her blood, her voice. Soon there would be nothing left of her.

Then light began flowing around her, lifting her up and encircling her, breathing for her, like a beautiful song, and her heart began to beat again.

Was this death?

It was sweeter than life.

The light receded and the cold crept back in, leaving her lying on her back on the concrete, staring up at the stars twinkling above her. The streetlight above her was dark ghost against the night sky.

“Muriel.”

She turned toward the voice that had sounded like velvet masculinity, and found herself looking into a man’s face that was foreign, yet familiar, with bright blue eyes that was surrounded by white-blonde hair. Slowly and shakily she pushed herself up then asked with a weak and broken voice, “What happened?”

“You were beset by a Grim,” the man replied. “It took a large portion of your soul.”

The words sounded strange and didn’t make much sense. Muriel didn’t know what a Grim was, or what losing her soul meant. “Is that death?” she asked.

“Losing all of your soul is,” he answered, looking into the darkness in front of them for a moment, before continuing, “but souls can fragment. It’s normal to lose a piece here and there from overwhelming events in life; usually not so much.”

“I lost a lot?”

“Yes.”

Muriel’s stomach churned and moved up into her throat. She didn’t know what that would mean for her, and it scared her. Was her life shortened? She felt dizzy, but, although she wanted to cry, she couldn’t find the ability to do so. A dull pain blocked her voice, preventing her from expressing anything.

The man pulled a small knife from his belt and nicked his finger, then drew something on Muriel’s forehead with his blood. “I pledge my life to Muriel Gardner, as her servant and protector, until her soul is returned to her,” he vowed.

What?!” Muriel gasped, disbelieving what she had just heard.

The man put his knife away and held out his hand to her. “Come, it’s not healthy to lounge around outside in this weather.”

When she didn’t move, he grabbed her arm, and hauled her to her feet, taking a moment to steady her before letting go.

“How did you know my name?” she asked. “Have we met before?”

“In a way, we have. I am from the Light.” He paused, then added, “Like an angel.”

“What’s your name?”

“Aion.”

Muriel shivered, and he gestured for her to follow him. He didn’t ask if she had anywhere to go, and she didn’t say that she was alone. Somehow Muriel knew that her fate rested in the hands of this stranger with the pretty blue eyes and oddly familiar face, so she went willingly and unquestioningly with him. It seemed as if she was watching herself walk with the man, clinging tightly onto his arm for warmth, from somewhere far above them. Behind them the streetlight flickered back on, as clouds began to fill the sky, and small flurries began to fall, and it looked like something out of a dream.

Fade to White

Fade to White Chapter 14

Fade to White

Chapter Fourteen

“Are we leaving now?”

Tryne stopped and straightened up so fast she nearly bent herself over backwards. “I forgot to mention that to Ken.”

“So we’re going to have to wait until you remember to tell him that you’re going away and never coming back?” Jerek asked sarcastically, lying on his bed with his elbow propping him up.

“No, I think I’ll just leave him a note or something.” Tryne sighed, slopping some of the jam she was spreading onto a slice of bread. “Is there anything else you would like to eat?”

“I’m fine. When do you think you’ll be ready to leave?”

“I don’t know, really.” Tryne laughed slightly. “I have to pack, clean some more, and make sure that everything is all set before I’d feel comfortable leaving, and don’t you dare make fun of me!”

Jerek growled. “I’ll be outside.”

After all of the events that had transpired over the last couple of days, his white shirt was stained almost black, to the point where he doubted he could ever get it clean again, and it left him with a grimy feeling. Walking a way with a bucket full of water, Jerek sat down on the grass with the sun hitting his back, and as he took off his shirt he realized that he had forgotten to grab another one to wear. Because he was already feeling comfortably settled, he decided that it didn’t matter much. Dumping the shirt into the bucket, Jerek reached in and began swirling it around.

He knew that he sounded suspicious with how much he was urging Tryne to leave, and perhaps that was why she kept delaying. Jerek couldn’t help himself though. Every moment longer that Tryne stayed, the more he worried about her safety. Nosaj knew about the place and his soldiers had obviously been there already. They could be back at any moment, and they would recognize Jerek, exposing who he was. Then Tryne would be killed, or worse . . . Jerek winced, feeling sick at the thought of Nosaj brushing his boney fingers against her smooth face, or clamping his thin yellow lips over her soft pink mouth. Leaving was the only way he could protect her from Nosaj. Keeping Tryne safe and happy was all he cared about, seeing her smile was all he lived for . . .

Jerek stopped that train of thoughts. He was getting too sappy. Suddenly, he realized that he had been doing it all wrong. Instead of waiting for Tryne to decide she was ready to leave, he should have swept her up onto his horse and ridden off with her. Eventually she would go along with it, and even thank him for stopping her from wasting valuable time, though she was probably going to be angry at him at first for doing something like that. Maybe that was what he should do, put down his washing and burst into the cottage, picking Tryne up and throwing her over his shoulder, then carry her to his horse. Jerek almost laughed at the thought.

A soft thud sounded faintly behind him, and Jerek looked over his shoulder to see Tryne, a cloth bundle at her feet and a strange, alarming expression on her face. Slowly Jerek stood up to face her, wondering what it was that caused her to react like that. In a flash he remembered, and the black rose tattoo burned into the back of his shoulder, shamefully marking him for what he really was. She had seen it.

“Tryne, I . . .”

“You work for him.”

“Tryne . . .”

“You lied to me! You said you had nothing to do with him!”

“Listen to me!” Jerek shouted, getting angry at the fact that she didn’t seem to hear him at all.

“You really are evil!”

“I never said that I wasn’t,” Jerek retorted.

“I can’t believe you’ve been working for him all this time.”

“Yeah, I have been. And you know what? I’m Nosaj’s heir. I’m the future ruler of this God-awful land. I’m his right-hand man.”

Tryne stood stunned, then shook her head. “I’m so stupid! Ken even told me I couldn’t trust you, but I didn’t listen because I . . . How could you be so manipulative?”

“I didn’t manipulate you into anything. Everything you did, you did on your own,” Jerek answered coldly. “And that was stupid of you.”

“Get out! Get away from me!” Tryne screamed, droplets forming in her eyes. “I never want to see you again!”

A pang went through Jerek’s heart, and he found himself lost for a second, unsure of how he should act, fighting against the desire to hold her. “Tryne, I . . .”

“Leave now.” She squeezed her eyes shut, turning her head away.

Silently Jerek moved past her, walking to the cottage and hastily grabbing his things, first putting on a new shirt to cover up the offending tattoo that he now loathed more than anything else in the world. Tryne was standing outside when he left, going inside and slamming the door shut as soon as he was out. Getting up on his horse, Jerek kicked its sides hard and the horse bolted forward.

Inside the cottage in the dim light that came through the window, Tryne knelt down at the side of her bed, and clasping her hands together she began to cry. In her heart she was still attached to him, she still loved him deeply, and she knew that it was wrong for her to feel that way.

On FictionPress

 

FadetoWhite

Fade to White

Fade to White chapter 13

Fade to White

Chapter Thirteen

Morning light spilled into the room and onto the unpleasant task that Jerek stood looking down on, the task that only he could do. Tryne was outside far away from the cottage door, and he had gotten her solid promise that she wouldn’t try to come inside. It smelled atrocious, of burnt flesh and hair, stale and overwhelming. Jerek hesitated, holding the burlap sack in his hands as he blanched slightly. The detached head looked up at him, its eyes more like melted gobs that ran down its cheeks and into its blackened lips. Crimson and black splotches were all that was left of the skin, and a few strands of red hair came from the skull. Slowly Jerek bent down and placed the bag next to the head, feeling even more sick as he got closer to it. Pushing it slightly with the toe of his boot, it stuck to his foot and jumped slightly when Jerek quickly pulled his foot away, turning and rolling along the wooden floor.

Jerek’s head went fuzzy and he became extremely aware of the nauseating smell that choked his nose and mouth. He lurched, fumbling to get outside, tasting the vomit in his mouth before it came up. Hunched over with his face in the grass just by the cottage, Jerek breathed heavily, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Are you all right?” Tryne called from where she was standing, pushing her shovel into the dirt and taking a few steps toward him.

“I’m fine!” he shouted back, standing up. The outside air was already clearing his head, and although he felt weaker he also felt like he could accomplish anything he needed to do.

“I think I could help you, instead of just standing out here doing nothing.”

Jerek didn’t even respond, turning his back and walking inside again. She wasn’t going to dirty her hands with this kind of work, not if he could protect her from it. Quickly, without thinking, Jerek held open the sack and kicked the head into it, immediately carrying it outside and dumping it into the hole that Tryne had dug. Both of them stood staring at it for a full minute, before Jerek started taking a few steps away.

“I’ll leave you to say goodbye . . .”

“No, wait.” Tryne grabbed the shovel and began piling dirt into the hole. “We weren’t even supposed to have anything to bury. I’ve already said my goodbyes to her.” Dropping the shovel haphazardly, Tryne flung herself at Jerek’s back, wrapping her arms around him.

Touching one of Tryne’s hands, Jerek lowered his head and softly said, “I’ll stay then.”

Tryne didn’t answer, crying quietly into the back of Jerek’s shirt.

“Run away with me,” Jerek said after a moment.

There was a pause before Tryne’s voice came quietly, “I’ve always wanted to see the Ruby Village.”

“No, outside of the Twelve Villages, far away.”

“I’m not even sure if a world does exist outside of the Twelve Villages.”

“Apparently Nosaj has a stronger grip on you than you thought.”

“Shut up! Nosaj doesn’t have any hold on me.”

“What were you saying just now?”

“Nothing” Tryne pushed Jerek away from her. “Go heat up some water to help me clean up.”

“I thought you intended to leave with me.”

“Not until after I make contact with Ken. I just can’t pick up and leave without telling him. That would be irresponsible.”

“Running away in and of itself is irresponsible.”

Pausing, Tryne sighed. “Okay, so maybe it’s not about responsibility, but I still want to tell Ken goodbye.”

“It’s unsafe for us to stay here.”

“I have confidence that you can protect me. Go on now, get the water and put it on the stove. I’ll light the fire and get the scrub brushes.” Stepping inside the cottage, Tryne wrinkled her nose. “Whew, it stinks in here. I would’ve thrown up too.”

“Don’t remind me,” Jerek grumbled.

“Are you embarrassed by it?”

“Shut up.” Jerek disappeared, coming back a few minutes later with a bucket full of water, which he poured into the kettle sitting on the cast iron stove. “Do you think we can get the smell out?”

“I don’t know, it’s worse than I ever imagined. I’m sure if we keep the window and door open for several days, and maybe steam up the room, the smell will die down.” Tryne laughed. “Or we’ll just get used to the smell and not notice it anymore.”

Jerek shook his head. “You’re a strange girl. I can’t understand why anyone would want to get used to a horrible smell.” Putting his arm to his forehead, Jerek leaned against the wall near the stove, looking down into the water in the kettle. “How hot are we getting the water?”

“I want it to at least start boiling.” Tryne paused and placed a finger against her lips, also looking at the water. “We have some time to wait.”

“You mean to say we’re going to use scalding hot water to wash your floor with? I don’t know if I want any part of this.”

“Of course you do. You may want to pull off your shoes and roll up your pants and sleeves though.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s more fun that way.”

“Hold on one second.” Kneeling down on the ground next to his bed, Jerek pulled out his sword and clothes from underneath and carefully laid them on top. “Just in case you get carried away.”

“If I get carried away, it won’t matter where you put your things. Don’t worry though, I’ll restrain myself.” Laughing, Tryne wrapped her arms around herself as if she was holding herself back.

Sitting down on the bed, Jerek narrowed his eyes at Tryne. “Are you taking your shoes off too?”

“Yes. Like I said, it’s more fun that way.” Bending over, Tryne pulled off her shoes and socks one by one, also bundling up the bottom of her skirt, tying it in a knot and exposing her legs. Keeping his eyes fixed on her, Jerek unlaced his boots, showing his bare feet as well. Tryne smiled coyly, dancing a little bit as she moved over to the stove. “Water’s ready!” she called, taking rags and using them to protect her hands as she pulled the kettle off the stove. “Watch your feet!” Then, splashing water all over, Tryne poured the contents onto the floor, steam filling the air. Picking up two scrub brushes, she tossed one to Jerek, then got down on her hands and knees.

“I’m not too sure about this,” Jerek said, watching her distrustfully.

“Come on, you’ll be fine. Besides, I think some hard work will do you some good.”

Cautiously, Jerek put one foot on the wet floor, then got down and began scrubbing. The first area he went over was where the head and been, and he soon found that if he quickly pushed the brush through a puddle that water would spray forward, traveling quite a distance. Looking over his shoulder, Jerek saw that Tryne was facing toward him with her head down, intent on cleaning. Twisting slightly, Jerek put his brush down and shoved it through a puddle.

Tryne yelped and fell back, completely caught off guard as the water went over her. Glaring at Jerek, who was smirking, Tryne took her brush and threw it at him, but Jerek dodged it, then slowly began crawling toward her. Tryne tried to move backwards, but she slipped and fell down, and with triumph Jerek planted his hands on either side of her head, leaning over her. Their eyes met, and Jerek moved one of his hands to brush a few strands of Tryne’s hair out of her face, her eyes closing at his touch. Leaning down, he kissed her lips softly and tenderly, then sitting back he pulled her up and kissed her again.

Putting her arms around Jerek’s waist, Tryne rested her head against his chest and murmured, “So this is for real. I was afraid last night was a one time thing.” Pausing, Tryne asked, “Why did you suddenly pull away?”

“I was afraid,” Jerek grunted.

“Afraid of what?”

“I’ve never felt this way before.” Jerek hesitated. Should he tell her the truth? He considered opening up, spilling out his heart to her and confessing who he really was. If it wasn’t for the fact that they were in love, they would be enemies. If she knew who he was, they would be enemies. He couldn’t tell her the truth, and it didn’t matter anyway because soon they would leave all of this behind them. It wasn’t necessary for her to know, it was a secret he was going to keep locked up inside him forever.

A shadow darkened the doorway and Jerek convulsively tightened his arms around Tryne. That was the only thing that stopped her from quickly pushing away and standing up. There was almost a guilty air around her as she stood facing Ken, clutching her hands together, not daring to make a move. It was Ken who spoke first, his voice dark, “Tryne, we need to talk, alone.”

“Yes, of course.” Tryne forced a nervous laugh. “Jerek, could you please finish cleaning the floor?”

He didn’t answer, simply watching as Tryne and Ken left, closing the door behind them. Then slowly Jerek picked up a scrub brush and began pushing it back and forth across the floor.

“Tryne, what the heck are you doing?” Ken said, fuming when they stopped a distance away from the cottage.

“What are you doing? I could’ve sworn you said . . .”

“I know what I said! This is what I’m saying now, and it would be in your best interest to listen to me. Don’t trust that guy! You should kick him out then disappear so he can’t find you, or better yet let me take care of him!” Ken suddenly stopped, then pleadingly added, “Please listen to me on this one.”

“Why are you saying this? What reasons are there on why I shouldn’t trust him?” Tryne asked, defiantly placing her hands on her hips.

“Because the orphans we recently took in said that a man with white hair took their big sister away, and in exchange let them all live. How many men with white hair do you think there are?”

“No, Jerek would never do anything like that!” Tryne shook her head.

“How well do you really know him? I tell you that he’s working for Nosaj!”

“You’re lying!” Tryne burst out.

“I would never lie!” Ken wrinkled his brow, his eyes looking hurt. “I care about you too much.”

“Ken, please.”

“Our village was attacked yesterday . . .”

“I know.”

“. . . but they didn’t kill that very many people. It seems that they were just rounding people up to transport to Opal. Apparently Nosaj wants to split our forces so we’ll fall apart. He knows about our group, he knows it’s organized and that our town has some of the most active members. Any moment now they’ll be attacking your home as well.”

“They already have,” Tryne answered to be snarky, then suddenly stopped. They knew about her mother and where she lived.

“What did you just say?” Ken’s eyes widened in alarm. “They attacked your cottage? Where were you? What happened?”

“I wasn’t there.” Tryne faltered. “I was down by the stream. It could have been anyone, because the place wasn’t destroyed, just ransacked. I highly doubt anyone did it on Nosaj’s orders.”

Ken looked at her strangely for a second, then grabbed her wrist and started pulling her. “C’mon, we’re leaving right now.”

“No Ken!” Tryne tried to pull away. “Let go of me, I’m not going anywhere!”

“We don’t have time to waste, we’re in danger . . .” Ken didn’t finish his sentence, looking stunned and touching his face where Tryne had slapped him.

“I’m staying here, and I’ll be perfectly safe!” Tryne shouted, turning around and running. When she reached her cottage, she flung open the door then slammed it shut behind her. “If Ken tries to come in, grab your sword and stop him,” she ordered to Jerek who was sitting on his knees in a mild and curious confusion that was only enhanced by her words.

“What happened?”

Tryne breathed deeply, then threw her arms around Jerek’s neck. “You’re not evil, are you?”

Jerek didn’t know how to answer. Instead he returned Tryne’s embrace, holding her tightly against him.

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