“Where’re you going?” Ippolyte rose from beneath the blankets. Her face flushed and her lips curved in a dreamy smile. The lamplight danced along her sweat moistened skin; it was all Wurhi could do to tear her eyes away.
“Let me breathe for a heartbeat,” the Zabyallan chuckled, slipping on her tunic. “Just a heartbeat.”
“Oh, now you want to breathe? And I thought I was greedy in lovemaking.” Ippolyte stretched like a tigress after a full meal. “From the way you talk of the Sengezian being a lecher, it’s a surprise to find you and he so alike. A good surprise.” A teasing smile played on Ippolyte’s lips. “Or is it that cheating caught up with you? Was this your last night before your execution?”
Wurhi fought the urge to wince. “Like the crazed knight said: live while you can.”
“I can barely see you.” The Vestulai began to move toward the fireplace. “Let’s light the flame. It’s starting to get cold.”
“No!” Wurhi rushed over, catching Ippolyte by the wrist.
“What are you-”
The little thief stole the taller woman’s lips. The warrior stiffened for a heartbeat, then leaned into her smaller partner, her eyes closing. The Zabyallan glanced toward the hidden gem. She pushed all thoughts of it from her mind, focusing on their dancing tongues.
Pulling away, her green eyes held Ippolyte’s red ones. “Stay there. I’m stepping out for a bit; when I get back, I’ll heat you up again.”
Ippolyte stared at her. “…move like all the wolves of hell are behind you.”
Wurhi giggled. “I’ll be quick.”
She slipped through the door, easing it shut behind her.
A cringe ripped through her body. “‘I’ll heat you up again?’ Really?” she muttered. “I’ve been spending too much time with Kyembe.”
Bearing a small clay lamp before her, she crept down the hall in a ring of wan light. Beyond that, a wall of darkness suffused the passage. She forced her mind not to consider it; enough troubled her without imagined phantoms.
Her steps quickened toward the lavatory.
Moving quietly down the hallway, she reached Kyembe’s door. Her tread slowed. Joined voices and heady laughter seeped from his room. Good. That would put him in the best mood in the morning.
Passing the saint’s door across the hall, she continued along until she reached the balcony that overlooked the wine room below. She made for the closest staircase, padded down the stone steps and into the dimly lit chamber.
Four of Paradise’s guards sat around a table – a flickering circle of lamplight between them - and looked up at the Zabyallan’s entrance. “Do you need anything, patron?” One rose, his chair scraping against the stone.
Wurhi shook her head, and the guard nodded, returning to his seat. The group quickly lost interest in her and continued the game of dice with which they were occupied.
The lav lay near the front of the building – ensuring foulness was as far removed as possible from the rest of Paradise. Wurhi’s sensitive nose wrinkled as she approached it. For all the cleaning with scented waters that was done, it still smelled like what it was: a place to relieve oneself doused in barrels of floral water.
She pinched her nose and pulled her tunic tighter around her. The front foyer lay ahead, admitting winter’s chill into the hall. As she made to open the lav’s door, she caught an insistent sound.
A pounding on the doors of Paradise. Vigorously.
She froze - her earlier paranoias awakened.
Her heartbeat quickened.
Stepping into the room, she cocked her ear toward the entrance.
Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud! Thud!
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” The doorkeeper waddled from his stool to the outer door. He slid the slot open with a yawn, blearily peering out.
A symbol of Paradise’s membership hovered before the slit.
He yawned once more. “Welcome to Paradise. Who’s there?”
Someone shuffled outside. The familiar countenance of a certain young poet came into view. “Ah, Master Ameldan.” The doorkeeper blinked drowsily. “Forgive my challenge - it’s late in the night. All the fires have been snuffed ou- Hold now.” He peered at Haldrych closely. “Master Jeva has informed me that you are in mourning. You cannot enter.”
“I left something here.” Haldrych’s voice was taut. “I need to fetch it at once.”
His eyes flitted to the side, but the doorkeeper failed to notice in the poor light.
“A hundred apologies, Master Ameldan,” He glanced to the idols to his back. “It’s the gods’ edict, after all. Describe what you lost and I’ll look for it when there’s some light.”
“It’s important.” Haldrych frowned.
The doorkeeper remained impassive. “Surely you’re not suggesting we go against the gods?”
“Now see here-” The young poet began, but more shuffling interrupted him.
Adelmar Horvoth’s face appeared at the slot, replacing the poet’s. “I’m not in mourning, my good man.” The merchant’s son offered. “Let me in and I’ll search it out.”
“Hrm, don’t know how you’ll search in the dark. But if it’s that important…” The doorkeeper unlatched the entrance and pulled the door open.
He yawned once more. “Welcome to Para-”
His breath died in his throat where the blade sank in.
Adelmar twisted the dagger before the twitching body dropped in a pool of red. He looked to Haldrych; his blue eyes alight. “You should take the next one! It felt even better this time!”
The young poet fought a wince, bringing his mask back to his face.
Berard rushed over the body, his nostrils flaring above his beard. “I smell vermin!” he growled, moving like a roused beast. “Very close! Adelmar! Stay and guard the entrance. You four acolytes, stay with him!”
The merchant’s son stiffened. “Guard the entrance? I can help!”
“You are.” The larger man grinned, his teeth bared. “The wolf corners its prey, cutting off escape. This is your task.” He looked to the others. “The rest of you who took the scent, find the thief and the jewel. Kill anyone who sees you.”
The cultists brandished their weapons hungrily.
With a growl, the large man threw off his robe, revealing his bear-like frame. Bone crunched and flesh writhed as his powerful bulk swelled and stretched. Haldrych gaped. When Adelmar transformed, he had been massive, but Berard was much larger as a man. As a beast, his lupine head towered above the doorway. The creature was immense.
Others embraced the change - save for Adelmar - and soon Haldrych found himself pressed within a tide of black robed rogues and snarling wolfish abominations. He took a step back toward the wall, fighting the urge to scream.
The great beast that was Berard tore the door from its hinges. The frame imploded; shards of wood exploded with the force. Haldrych recoiled, covering his head with his arms.
Baying to the pack, the leader crouched through the doorway.
The wolves of Laexondael flooded Paradise.
- Ontario, Canada
I'd like to balance the scales.
Please note that if I review you, I tend to see the positives in any work and seek to encourage people. I tend to review quite high. That's okay, as this is an amateur writing website. I'm no expert, myself, after all.
I like a lot of things, and I try to see both the strengths and the potential in any work and talk about those.
After all, most of the time, writing is a gift.
And I am not one to spit on gifts.