Sean C. Henderson
All rights reserved.
Vashon swung the golden tassel of his
creamy white turban until it came to rest hanging cockily from his left
"Vashon!" the noble father of
the Sunspot family hissed across the ivory table laden with dry, sweet-smelling
Vashon, premier firstborn son of the Sunspot
family, delighted in openly expressing his lack of appreciation toward
the welcomed guest astride the table, a silent mediator between father
"My permission to leave this mollycoddling,
sire?" Vashon sneered openly, his words dripping with venom. "I've
had my share of being placed by others. I can do it myself now."
He shot up viciously, storming arrogantly
from the dark and spacious room, which yawned open from the ceiling yet
kept a deathly silence in the presence of honored Shadow families; a silence
so strong that every word uttered could easily be discerned.
Vashon's father cast down his eyes as his
eldest son, future keeper of the family, stalked away in a rage over their
"We of the Consulate," the aged
Shadow continued, "have held within our sights the plights of our
people of centuries past. At one time, we shared this desert with the
venemous Scorpos, but the way of the Sultan was another matter altogether.
It was His will that they be exterminated for our safety, so in honor
of His eminence, we did so, giving praise to the sun. You remember these
times, do you not, Sunspot? Soon thereafter, our lot was cast against
the humans to the north, over the pointed edges of the painted mountains;
we battled long and hard with them and their allies, the elves, the dwarves,
the stone giants; even the dragons themselves came from their frozen tundra
to aid in the War of Humans and Shadows. We, not because of our violent
actions, but because of our coarse black skin, so different from the flesh
of the humans, because of our affinity with nature's most destructive
force, the fires, and due to our culture being so foreign to them, are
hunted down and cast out and slaughtered with even colder indignity than
when we made our hasty retreat in the sunless days at the end of the war."
A slow and increasingly impatient voice
grew in the Consul.
"But I did not come here to give a
history lesson. It is people like Vashon that we, the Consulate, wish
to make the defenders of our clan. Your son upon whose shoulders we seek
to set the coat of arms. Vashon is a young man, still able-bodied and
willing to give our people purpose again. Of three sons, it is the eldest
who possesses the least maturity, Sunspot. I wish we could have had that
trailblazer attitude of his among the Desert Knights."
Inhaling in slight offense, the head of
the Sunspot family motioned for the servant awaiting at the door. Hastily,
she picked up the incense bowls and whisked them out, their trail of white
smoke rising and fading away.
"You are a guest in my home,"
Vashon's father explained his abrupt end of the assembly, "and I
would feel it wise that you keep your manners in mind. Only the scorpion
visits the salamander's nest to sting its children ... you are welcome
here again, provided you lower your tail."
And so the assembly was over; the appeal
to have Vashon step up to take the position of a Consulate was over.
"A Desert Knight's lot is an honorable
position. I know I they've already proven I'm not fit for it, but shouldn't
a father want his son to endeavor towards the best of his abilities? How
can you ask me to be a Consulate?" Vashon raged to his father, who
crossed his thickly robed legs impatiently. His obsidian face changed
little while Vashon ranted further. "Three centuries is old enough
for me to make my own decisions, isn't it, father?"
Vashon's father, resolute in his paternal
position, waved his hand dismissively.
"Semantics will never work in the
Sunspot household and you know it. It IS your choice, Vashon. I was merely
giving you an opportunity to offer prestige for the family. I am sorry
if you find my caring actions offensive. I would wager to say you've changed
... now you long to bite the nipple of your mother, and not drink from
it. But enough of this," he raised his voice, removing the hanging
ruby earrings in the shapes of tearing droplets. Vashon sat down obsequious
to his father's demands. "It's time for you to do something. I've
tried to encourage you toward making something of yourself, as well as
spreading the Sunspot names Both are my concerns, and neither are my priorities,
son. Listen to the voice of wisdom."
Several moments passed, until Vashon's
sensitive voice asked, "What does it say?"
"Earning quenches yearning."
All this and more Vashon remembered in
snippets of thought; while the days passed by, the painted mountains and
golden sands alive with sparkling splendor and subdued starry blue, it
seemed to Vashon that every night stretched for weeks while he added a
new perspective to his future ... it seemed every diamond in the nighttime
canopy was a different path he could take. Locked away in either his rum-red
room or the jutting black balcony, the eldest Sunspot child spat when
thinking of his younger brothers' success as Desert Knights. Yet his blood
boiled more at the knowledge of what people had always said about him:
"Too brazen and set in his ways, too stubborn and idealistic ...
more a romantic than a man. No wonder he's still single. Awful that the
eldest son should bring the most shame to the Sunspot family name."
Vashon lifted his head high above the other
small houses of his village and released a cursing roar and gesture. But
upon releasing his anger, there was one star he saw glowing brightly on
the dark northern horizon; to the north ... where the humans dwelled.
That bright star shone for several moments in Vashon's pearly black eyes,
until, finally, he threw off his loose green jacket and readied for bed.
The night slipped by so quickly, it was morning before he knew what had
happened. He had hardly had time to think fully.
He had made his choice.
"San Szuri's a spectacular city ...
and maybe I can make some changes as a Consulate," Vashon convinced
himself as the sun rose and the dim northern star, which had watched over
him the night before, faded gracelessly from the rosy sky.
Sir!" the shadow servant called, banging on Vashon's massive bedroom
door of creamy bleached cactus strip. "Come quick, Master Vashon,
your brothers have returned with two... two..."
Impatiently, Vashon threw on a sand-soiled
earthen brown tunic and cactus-colored leggings.
"Two what?" he asked, stalking
alongside the onyx-skinned serving girl.
"Two humans, effendi! It is true!
They were caught in a sandstorm, and my other sires brought them here,
and have now taken leave for San Szuri to appeal the Consulate on the
A whirling dust devil could not have spun
around as fast Vashon did.
"Two WHAT?" he demanded, his
voice mixed with confusion ... and fear.
"Humans, Master Vashon. Come, I will
show you," the short serving woman spoke hurriedly, pulling him hastily
along behind her. "Father is gone," she said, "and only
you are left here. You have little choice," she muttered hotly while
Vashon ran in hot pursuit, jerking wide a door into the sanded atrium.
Vashon dug his sandaled feet into the gritty
floor just as his fingers wrenched nervously at the strings tying his
tunic at the top. A man, swarthy in complexion, dark-skinned and dripping
with sweat, breathed slowly and lightly as his brown body was stretched
across the couch. All he lacked was a death shroud, else he'd have been
a corpse, ready for burial. Clammy skin clung damply to the human's wearied
muscles. Vashon straddled his feet cautiously, reaching for the dark hilt
of the male's sword, but then pulled back fearfully, unable to do so with
the knowledge that he might lose an arm in the process.
"Is it safe?" he asked, fearfully.
Vashon watched the thick eyelids for signs of movement.
"Two humans were caught in the sandstorm,
Master," warned the shadow woman from behind Vashon.
"Where's the other one?" Vashon
demanded quickly, clenching his fists and darting his animalistic eyes
around the room. A hot, lusty breeze blew the white curtains aside, and
Vashon caught glimpses of fleeting strands of dark hair from behind the
masking curtains. They were long and sinewy, moving absently through the
warm air like grasping fingers ... and Vashon thought, betraying the person
to whom they belonged. Anxiously, the Sunspot tore aside the curtain and
snagged the hair in his palms, pulling quickly yet gently while placing
his hooked arm around the human's neck.
"What were you doing in the Ignis?
Who are..." he trailed off, his black eyes adjusting to the human
in his arms. Her long and shivering arms wrapped clinging to his waist
in supplication, yet Vashon still held her fast by the neck. Giving way
to exhaustion and fear, the woman's knees buckled from their braced position,
and she stumbled forward out of the window's breeze and nearly atop Vashon.
He swayed back and caught her deftly up in his own bundled arms, placing
her on the floor. Her skin was as tightly drawn and moist as the male's
... and on further inspection, both were scarred by the savage cuts and
pocks of the swirling sandstorm, blinding in flaming fury, known to sap
the energy from any unused to the Ignis' climate. Her brown eyes were
large and deep, drawing Vashon's own occasional glance.
"Who are you?" he finally asked.
"Water..." begged the human girl,
clawing with her bony fingers like a vole digging for a stream. "Save
"Give me that!" Vashon snatched
a copper pitcher from the shadow servant. She had been pouring a stream
of the clear, aguave sweetwater into the man's mouth until Vashon deliberately
directed it to the ailing woman. But just as he lifted the coppery pitcher
to her dry, cracked lips, she lunged hungrily for the water, and Vashon,
overtaken, let loose the pitcher. The sugary cactus water splashed thickly
on the warm obsidian floor.
"By the Sun, she is like a dog lapping,"
Vashon swallowed hard, stepping back from the human woman licking lustfully
with her small tongue on the wet floor. "She'll want more,"
he said, mostly to himself. After moments of peering at the pitiful sight,
he ordered the servant to fetch more and more, as much as she needed.
Even when sated, Vashon still gorged her on the sweetly contained water,
as much as she wanted.
Finally, tanned skin swollen and eyes closed
shut in slumber, the woman was no longer a concern of Vashon's. With the
help of the servant woman, the Sunspot son moved the man into a room on
the top floor, locking him in and alone, leaving only the servant to tend
to his needs.
"Make sure that, should he awaken,
you warn my brothers and father, if they have returned. Until then, keep
the beast in submission."
Searing heat hindered the healing of
the couple, yet it was the woman, Sara, who first and foremost pulled
from out her weeklong stupor. In that time, Vashon had placed his house
in order and, at the pleasure of his father, made the Sunpot name well
spoken of throughout the village. Within a matter of hours they were known
throughout the village as the one family brave and gracious enough to
take humans as supplicants in their household. By the week's end, news
had reached as far as San Szuri, the distant capital city.
"I am very proud of my eldest son,"
father Sunspot spoke his praise to the twin Desert Knight siblings, Vashon's
younger brothers. "Now let us hope that soon they will be well enough
to leave us be."
Under the watchful and wondering eyes of
the serving woman, Vashon could not hide his growing infatuation with
the human woman. Chance meetings outside her suite-like room, invitations
for cucumber salad and sirra lunches, gifts given under guise of xenia;
all displayed the increasingly lightening heart of Vashon Sunspot, eldest
son ... ready for marriage.
The playful nature of Vashon did not go
long unnoticed; it was the serving woman who first spoke to him about
"Master Vashon? Our young guest, Sara,
continues in wonderment about the land of the Ignis and all of our splendor.
How foreign it must be to a human," she noted, clearing the breakfast
table, "our homeland. She has only been enraptured by its destructive
nature, and has yet to see the beauty around here ... in the land where
I fear her husband may never awaken to bear witness."
Vashon aided his servant by folding the
saffron silk tablecloth.
"How is the husband of Sara? I have
not attended his bedside in weeks," he asked distantly, his words
and his mind wandering two different hemispheres.
"Our guest, the wife, is beside him
day after day, hoping and praying that her beloved may gain more color
to his lips. His body is deathly warm to the touch, and his blood still
runs much too warm in his veins. Still, though, he lives," said the
serving woman, her own hand brushing briskly over her Master's. "Keep
this in mind, effendi, when you show her the painted mountains ringing
the Ignis. Those, above all others, she finds fascinating in the stories
we tell one another. Provisions await you downstairs, enough to fit the
needs of two travelers for two days." She smiled warmly, moving hastily
from Vashon's balcony overlooking the Sun Shrine.
Turning his full, dark eyes from the bright
orange chapel, Vashon risked a smirk to the serving woman.
"I thank you, shea. Your perception
is uncanny, and I only hope that your discretion is equally notable. Silence
is a virtuous stratagem, easily and not uncommonly imposed upon a servant
from her master." With that, Vashon dismissed the woman.
When her departure left Vashon secluded
on the balcony, he grinned broadly and, with gusto, donned his bright
green leggings and forest colored traveling vest, belted tightly across
his waist with a golden belt. Then, padding quickly and softly, Vashon
slid down the stairs to check the provisions given for his long and eagerly
"Why have you summoned me?"
asked Sara, entering the atrium of the Sunspot household. The serving
woman had dressed her in a light and arid yellow silk dress, tight-waisted
and busted yet easy and free in movement. "Where are we going?"
she asked nervously, her dark hair tangled in the threads that stretched
from the billowy sleeved arms to the bottom of her back, at the tailbone.
In clumsy dignity, she attempted to unwrap her thick hair from around
Vashon crossed the room from his leaning
position in the doorway. Gently, his black hands merged with her billowing
black hair and unsnagged it from her cool, comforting desert traveling
"We are to visit the painted mountains
of the Ignis, a sight you have longed for."
Sara's lips parted.
"Master Vashon, in all respect, I
thank you for treating me as your guest. Yet there is only one sight I
truly desire, and that is to see my husband well again. Can you do this
Furtively throwing together the desert
fruit cakes, sandwiches, and flasks of water and wine, Vashon shook his
"Unfortunately, I am not in command
of his life. It is the Ignis which has taken him to sickness, and the
Ignis will decide what is to become of him. Let us both hope for the best,"
he said soothingly, stroking her hand. Her cold, golden wedding ring caused
him to pull his hand back sharply, unaccustomed to such a frigid piece
Sara said nothing of his reaction and only
took his hand, smiling.
"Master Vashon, you have done much
for my husband and I. Though I desire his return from suffering, I cannot
turn down your offer. You are so eager, like a child!" she laughed,
taking his hand and moving toward the door's wide entrance. The thick
sunlight outside disappeared in the atrium, especially at the sides of
the great double doors, in black close-cropped corners.
"If you wish not to go," Vashon
responded remorsefully, "then by all means, refuse my offer. But
as eager as I am to journey, you are twice so! Such is what I have gathered
from my serving woman, and by my own account 'til now."
"I am quieted, Vashon. Let's go and
see the sights, and I will recount all the pleasures to my husband when
And so it was that the shadow Vashon and
the human woman Sara left to pursue destiny's walkway, a pathway of sand
eternally shifting as the winds of chance and change blow, undetected,
across its trailworn surface.
A long, winding trail of pitted footsteps
waved along behind Vashon and Sara, the painted mountains visible distantly
from the city and growing rapidly nearer on the horizon. Carefully, Vashon
avoided the sandtraps and sandstorms of the Ignis Desert. Sara eventually
grew accustomed to the desert-sand-colored silk dress she wore, and reacted
with mute surprise when the few distant breezes from out of the mountains
cooled her, caught in the folds of the traveling dress. Laughing and exchanging
more stories of their homelands, Sara and Vashon crossed a day's journey
to the mountains, and by dusk, the two had ascended their sloping passes.
Vashon took her to a flat plateau overlooking
the expansive desert to the south. It was a soft, comfortable rock, and
a layer of whisking sand covered it gently and slid over the steep edge
of the cliff, only a few feet from where Vashon set up the dinner mat.
He set out the bottled wine and cakes.
"Tell me, Sara, what you think of
them. Are they not beautiful?" he asked, lifting a light, warm cake
flaked with shredded pink cacti bud. "The mountains, and the view?"
Awe overtook her as the sun blazed orange
to her right, then fell unnoticeably away. She bit into the cake, unable
to turn away.
"I don't think I'll ever see anything
this extraordinary again, Vashon. I want it to last a lifetime!"
She pointed toward something distant but
brilliant in the sunlight leaving the desert.
"What is that?" she asked, pointing
far to southeast. Vashon stood at her side, his gaze fighting to leave
the rigid pointing arm and focus on the horizon's sparkle.
"That is the capital, San Szuri. You
can see the sun reflecting off of its streets from here," he answered.
"The City of Gold!" she exclaimed,
remembering the serving woman's stories.
"The same," Vashon nodded, removing
his cream-colored sandals. Cheerfully, Vashon finished off Sara's small
meal, focused upon another extraordinary sight: Sara, posed with poise
against the sun, her exotic pale skin like milk. An instinct overtook
him, and he warily wondered about her frailty, and how elated he would
feel at the prospect of protecting her from disaster.
"To be her protectorate and friend,"
he murmured. "I love you, Sara."
Quickly, she furrowed her thin brow and
cocked her head aside.
"What?" she asked. "Did
you speak to me, Vashon?"
"No, Sara, no," he smiled, chagrined.
"Just talking to myself."
Sara watched him for a moment or two, and
then turned back to the setting sun, his image burned there in her eyes.
She knew that, though he only looked a year or two older than her, he
was almost three centuries her senior.
"Old enough to be my great, great,
great, great, great, great grandfather," she mused.
"What?" Vashon asked, his black
eyes locked on her lips. "Did you speak to me, Sara?"
"No, Vashon, no," she smiled,
chagrined. "Just talking to myself."
After dinner, the night encompassed them,
wrapping them in darkness. The sky was an antithesis to the sapphire sands;
a black-and-blue sea with twinkling crests scattered about in waving patterns.
Vashon pointed many of them out to Sara: the scorpion, the spear and sword,
and the water bearers, among many others. Their conversation, when the
waxing way of the moon began, moved from past myth to present truth, and
they learned much about one another. Each was able to see beyond the words
of the other, and learned the emotions of their hearts although they were
not spoken. Heartstrings entwined, and emotions were shared between them
... but not openly. That was as venture that took all of the night.
Many, many words later, the sun had trekked
across Margaia and rose from the immediate left, burning out the stars
"What would family say, if they knew
where you were, and who you were with?" Vashon asked solemnly, leaning
on one elbow over Sara, who was lying on her back and getting the last
glimpses of the stars as they disappeared.
"They would care about as much as
they did when I was wed," she responded pointedly and almost too
quickly. "Our marriage was sudden and unexpected, a thief of love
striking our hearts from the dark world we left behind when he approached
my father, asking for his daughter's hand in marriage. I thought for sure
one of my younger, prettier sisters would be the one he sought. But it
was me, and for that, I love him."
An ebony-skinned snake crossed over and
covered Sara's mouth lightly, its heat almost pulling the breath from
"Sara, there is something I must tell
you," Vashon said, continuing to hold his hand over her mouth, to
shush her. "It pertains to your husband," he commented darkly,
full dark eyes staring.
Sara waited patiently for him to go on,
her body still and suddenly cold.
"No one is expecting your husband
to survive now," he says, bluntly. "Sara, you must understand
this: the lifeblood inside him has boiled and damaged his vitals, most
of which will not last long to support him. And should he come through,
his greatest asset, his mind, will be spoiled from the pressure and pyrogen
of his suffering. An invalid, Sara...."
Against the blazing sun on the west horizon,
Sara placed her own hand over Vashon's lips. Her tearing eyes watched
the sky, turned away from Vashon. Her face was burning hot and her palms
sweating. It was ten times worse than her recuperation from the sandstorm,
she thought, and for a brief moment, she hated Vashon intensely. Then
reason caught her, and she realized that he was but the messenger of an
awful fate. His words came fast, almost as fast as the fading of the last
star in the dawn sky. To this Sara had turned, and cried quietly as it
flickered out against the bright blue above.
"Sara?" Vashon asked, begging
for her attention as he kissed away her tears. "I am sorry."
Sara lay upon her back, and stretching
out her arms and baring her chest.
Her slender legs shifted one over the other.
"So am I."
She turned her lips to meet his, and soon,
alone upon the plateau of the painted mountains, warmed by the fresh sunlight,
Vashon and Sara consummated their friendship in a furious feast of the
flesh. So it was that another Shadow seed was planted, gorged on lust
and watered with love. Yet neither of them were concerned with this; not
was Sara concerned when the cold gold of her wedding ring slipped between
the crop of two adjacent rocks. In a throe of pleasing passion, she drew
her hand to her lover's rocking side; the ring was drawn from her finger
in the grip of the rocks, and like a timeless wheel, rolled to the edge
of the steep cliff. A distant observer could have sworn that the ring
was one of the falling stars of the dawn sky, sparkling with short, glittering
clangs down the colorful cliff face, until it crashed into the sand as
gold as its rim, a breeze blowing gently and obscuring it underneath the
desert, beneath the surface palette. Covered slowly and methodically,
the ring shone faintly in morning sun below the flickering orange-and-yellow
wall, lancing cruelly up in tall, sharp spires that swayed, disappearing
into a more gray colored alcove above. Splashes of crimson painted the
wall, dripping down into the sand, thick red clay flowing like a stream
of salty, gummy wine.
"So soon," Vashon said after
an hour's silence Released from his lover's grip, he rose to his feet
to face the morning after. "It is time to return."
Sara said nothing, but fixed her hair and
traveled, side by side with Vashon, back down onto the desert floor. Yet
behind them, to the north, blazed that singular star blocked by the mountain's
spires when atop them, bright and glorious against the huge and massive
sun, hanging onto its brief life as long as it could stay suspended.
It was the North Star. Still it shone,
waiting in the fringes of dawning darkness ... unseen by the lovers as
they padded back toward home.
Only one sight halted their journey back
"This is an oasis," Vashon explained,
pointing at the fifty feet of lush greenery surrounding a large pool of
warm, white water. "Its the most a Shadow ever sees of the land outside
Sara ran her fingers along the rough trunk
of a palm.
"It is like home," she said.
"The Glittercoast Port has trees like these ... palm trees."
Nostalgia wrenched her from Vashon's hold
and she walked to the edge of the pool.
"But there are no waves here, and
this water isn't as cold as the sea."
Vashon looked at their reflection in the
clear, mirrored surface; a ebony Shadow and a pale human woman, a couple
worthy of shame. A lump formed in his throat at this sudden realization,
and he barely got out his next words.
"We know of the sea. Over the mountains
to the south is an ocean; from their summit, we can see the merchant ships
of the Pisceans sailing, and the sea birds, the gulls, shrieking and diving
into the water. The Shadows have always liked the seashore."
Sara leaned over, also viewing their reflection.
"Why is that?"
"No humans," he said, no humor
in his voice.
A wave of heat apart from the desert sun
rushed through Sara when she saw their reflection.
"What if he is still alive?"
she asked abruptly, turning to look up at Vashon.
The Sunspot said nothing, but only lowered
"He cannot be for long. No one but
a Shadow can survive a sandstorm," he said, with harsh finality.
"I survived," Sara whispered,
roughly. "What am I then?"
"He protected you." Vashon reached
out to take her hand.
Sara pulled it away from his warm onyx
"He loved me!" she shouted incredulously,
the morning's reality finally dawning on her. "Do you?"
"I must, or we would not have...."
he trailed off, confused. Crossing his arms over his black breast, Vashon
lifted his head up. "I didn't do that alone. You were more than willing,
Her pale face showed simmering rage.
"Is that what your tour was all about,
Vashon? To make a living man's wife your own?"
"No," he answered tersely. "To
give the lovely wife of a dying man a taste of the life he never gave
Sara stalked from the pond, toward Vashon,
her finger as pointed as her words.
"You know nothing of my marriage,
and of my husband! And you know little of me! How can you care?"
Vashon caught her wrist in his hand and
pushed it to her sides, grabbing her around her curving waist and pinning
her to his body.
"Because I do, and that should be
enough of an answer for you! I am your savior, Sara!"
"You are my seducer," she hissed,
moving only her lips. "I owe you my life, but not my virtue."
Vashon released Sara, pushing her away
from him, diverting his anger.
"I know that! I took it from you!
Will you hold it against me, even though you love me?" Vashon tore
a sun-baked olive-green palm frond from a tree and fanned himself off.
Silence descended, and Sara could not argue.
Her tongue quivered as she bit back a response, but she was an honest
woman and, most importantly, she was honest with herself.
There was nothing she could say that would
cleanse her of her own actions.
For upward of an hour neither spoke to
the other, though both tried to speak countless times, only to find themselves
unable to communicate. Finally, they had found a barrier they could not
cross, each staying cold and distant from the other, Vashon walking amidst
the palms hanging with vines and Sara circling the water's edge.
A shadow fell over Vashon and broke his
solitary thoughts. Turning back to look, he saw a massive scaled serpent,
glistening with oil and colored blue with thick purple pockmarks, winding
through the small forest of tropical trees and heading directly at Sara.
Vashon gave little thought to his action
and ran, his weak legs barely supporting his athletic sprint. Rushing
by her, he slung his arm around her waist and pulled her away from the
pond, dragging her into the cover of palms on the opposite side. Sara
complied, albeit reluctantly, holding tight to Vashon's waist as they
ran from the python whose mallet-shaped head jutted from adjacent patch
of trees. Its mouth opened wide as it came to the pond, and Vashon and
Sara realized that it could swallow one man whole.
Luckily, it did not see them. Instead,
the sidewinding snake dipped its snout through the water's surface and
began to drink.
"Should we try to escape now?"
Sara whispered to Vashon, her hot breath tickling his ear.
"No, not at all ... it would see us
for sure if we moved. We'll wait," he answered decisively, glaring
at the snake.
After several minutes, it was still drinking
from the pond, which had lowered significantly. They could see the level
of saturated sand, drying out in the midday sun. Two hours passed, and
the pond was gone. The python was swollen, sickly, like a mottled wineskin.
"My god," Sara panicked, "what
has it done? It's going to burst!"
Yet before she had even gotten those words
beyond the barrier of her teeth, a slit opened on the snake's underbelly,
and in a rush of water mixed with sweet, sticky blood, it ruptured and
spilled itself into the empty hole which had once been the pond. A painful
hiss sounded as the python writhed and collapsed into its own pool, the
tongue licking uselessly at the air. Finally, it stopped moving altogether.
Vashon and Sara started back for home,
saying nothing until they were out of sight of the oasis.
"Do desert snakes do that often?"
Sara asked cautiously, begging for him to say that the action was commonplace
and undeserving of attention.
"I donít know," was all he could
Come morning, the first of the lush greenery
would start to crumble and fade away, dying.
Together, Vashon and Sara stood before
the closed double doors of the Sunspot home. To hide their budding as
well as confusing relationship, Vashon unfurled his own ebony fingers
from hers and gripped the twisting handle of the doors, turning and pushing
"At least we're back in time,"
he whispered to her, before he fully opened the door. "They won't
suspect a thing."
Striding into the shadowy home, he called
for the maidservant.
"Vashon has returned. Ready my verandah
for a short lunch," he ordered, squinting in the darkness as he closed
the door behind him.
Sara's breath stopped suddenly when Vashon
closed and latched the door. Apprehensively, Vashon turned to face the
Lying prone and prostrate on the obsidian
floor were the Shadows of the Sunspot household, blood-soaked and still,
long dead in the dark. Two of the youngest serving girls crossed each
other, stabbed clean through their small black bellies.
Sara shrieked, pointing to the ascending
stairwell, straight ahead. Vashon's stomach sank as though loaded with
ice. His younger brothers, the Desert Knights, in their sandy gold armor,
clung to one another in a dying embrace, a lance driven through their
motionless chests, bound together forever. Gasping for breath, Sara moved
forward while Vashon could not. She had seen the lolling face of Vashon's
father, the head of the Sunspot family, visible alone. His body was wrapped
in the red shroud of the long carpet leading to the stairwell. Bending
low, she began to unroll his wrappings; yet as the body moved, the head
stayed in place. Her fingers touched the pooling blood, and she jerked
her hand back.
"It is so cold!"
Vashon gripped his chest in welling fear.
"Who has done this?" he demanded
of the silence around him, suddenly spinning maddeningly like a top.
Tears streaming, Sara dashed for the stairs,
praying with faith that her husband was unharmed. To have betrayed his
love and never be able to confess to him would be more than she could
"Vashon, come with me!" she begged,
choking on her tears.
Something shone, a brief slit of light,
hidden within the pitch-black corner to the right of the doors. Vashon
stood directly between Sara and her view of the suddenly moving man. Terror
filled her features. She knew the hidden man as she had never known him
"No! Vashon!" she cried. But
it was too late.
A frigid sliver of steel went through Vashon's
back, chest, and heartheld hand. Steam hissed out of the hole in his chest.
He bared his teeth and groaned, heart sundered in twain. Hot blood coalesced
into icy fragments over the frosty blue blade that slipped from his back
as from a sheath. Vashon wrenched, gasping like a landed fish, his eyes
closed tightly shut.
Sara clasped her throat and fell to her
knees, vomiting and retching on the red carpet.
"Die, Shadow," came the husky
words of a familiar face, thick-lipped and brown-skinned. Still the eyes
were feverish. Still the hair was long and stringy, greasy in appearance.
Still the muscles rippled beneath the black straps, weathered skin seared
and scraped by hot sand.
"Still, I am her husband," Vashonís
murderer crowed, pushing forcefully on Vashon's shoulder until the Shadow
sank to his knees.
"Sriar," Vashon cursed, struggling
up out of the grasp to grab his attacker by the throat. His gray eyes
flamed orange as the inner fire in his heart released itself in a flood
of fury, coursing out of his fingers and into the human's flesh. Vashon
knew the man must die, and knew he could throw the last of his body heat
into killing him. This human had shown no respect for his property and
people, and Vashon cursed his nemesis with every final breath. Yet he
also wanted to give a final farewell to Sara. His heart was divided, but
he made his choice.
In the end, both were slain. Vashon's fire
faded away just as the human's stamina dissipated. When he gave way, his
hair burst into smoking flames and he frothed thick at the mouth, his
blood boiling over. Both collapsed into a bloody, burning pile. Screaming,
Sara ran to her husband, shaking him by the collar.
"I never knew who you were! I never
dreamed you were a Hunter," she cried, daring not to touch his flesh.
While Sara howled in anguish over the loss
of her husband, a small militia of Desert Knights, escorted by the shadow
serving girl, burst through the hallway doors. Their edged sabers glinted
cruelly as they circled the room, searching about and clearing the bodies
of the dead.
Some stopped to stare compassionlessly
at the human woman and her dead mate. Sara's sobbing was only outdone
by the wail of the shadow servant, who knelt beside Vashon, screaming
his name and resting his head upon her breast. Her hands held him in an
embrace that melted his frozen chest wound, a steaming trickle of blood
beginning down the path to his navel.
"I went for help, to stop you before
you came, but I was too late! Too late," her lament pierced the souls
of the young and able-bodied Desert Knights. Most forcibly turned a casual
face back to their duties; yet others shed a tear or two, and the entire
company was solemn at the removal of the youngest Sunspot brothers.
With sparkling silver spades, they buried
the spear conjoining their comrades on the north edge of the estate, its
gory tip aimed dangerously towards the north. After this short ceremony,
curses against the human scourge were upon their black lips when they
returned again to rove the Ignis.
A towering clock in the atrium strike five,
the evening toll. A tall, spectral shadow, bespectacled and adorned in
the black, red and gold robes of a San Szuri Consulate, appeared at the
doors of the Sunspot mansion. He turned his starry white eyes from the
serving woman and Vashon to Sara and her husband. The latter caught him
by surprise, and he hesitated only briefly before delivering his message.
"Woman," he addressed the serving
girl. "You are to tell Vashon Sunspot that his ascension to the Consulate
has been officially turned down, for what other reason but notoriety?
The Counsel have spoken their piece, and now leave the dead to their peace.
Issur, bisen aht."
And then he was gone, as quickly and majestically
as he had come.
For nine months, the Sunspot name went
unspoken in the Ignis. Sara and the serving woman lived in that hollow
house of misery, their delicate footsteps the only to tread the halls.
Soon after the massacre, Sara's belly became swollen with a child, and
it pained her more to remain in bed, the weight being too much for her.
Unaccustomed to the heat of desert life, Sara's health declined, and she
was no longer able to make a trip out into the stretches of searing sand.
All that had stopped her before was not knowing what the rest of Telleria
had to offer her. When the time came for her delivery, the serving girl
was at her side, a good midwife experienced in the process as well as
It was a boy. A copper-skinned child with
full, bronze hair, a blight to social history, both women knew upon seeing
"The blood of human and Shadow runs
in him," the serving woman whispered. "I can see it."
"And even though I am only human ...
I can feel it," Sara said, coughing sporadically as she held the
child to her breast, mourning at a long-anticipated reality.
"Promise me you will raise him as
Vashon was raised. I want him to have the same gifts and riches he had.
Teach him virtue and purity, and caution him against the mistake his parents
made ... I can be his mother only so much longer."
The baby whined. Sara placed her nipple
in its mouth and it quieted, suckling. His mother's milk was sweet, and
lulled the baby into comforting dreams of her warm womb.
"I can do that, Sara. What shall you
call him? Tell me, for even now your fire flickers." Strength was
all that held together the serving woman as she carried on her last conversation
with the only full-blooded human she would ever know.
"Sanwa, I have decided. In your tongue,
I believe that means 'of a passion.'"
Smiling through welling tears, the serving
woman held tight to Sara's hand.
"May the God humans know take you,"
she said, comfortingly. The baby suckled until the milk flowed no longer.
Looking up, he couldn't see himself in his mother's eyes, now closed.
Carefully, the serving woman took the baby
from Sara's limp arms and opened her own bosom to the half-Shadow baby
boy, Sanwa Sunspot. She placed her nipple in its mouth and it quieted,
suckling. Her milk was sweet and lulled him into comforting dreams of
a warm womb.
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