by Miranda Foix
Part 1 of my NaNoWriMo novel: Modern fantasy about promises kept and broken
The very beginning of my NaNoWriMo 2005 novel, Promises.
The city streets were blacker than usual that night as a lone figure strolled along the sidewalk. Burnt-out streetlamps kept vigil over the corridor between the darkened buildings. The figure continued on all the same, not paying much heed to the eerie silence or the lingering darkness. Her skirt, some dark color close to that of the night, swayed from side to side as she walked; the slits on either side exposing the pale porcelain of her legs with each stride. The thick soles of her boots made very little sound, somehow, over the concrete as she hurried to her destination. As she moved, her thoughts drifted with her, not along the city streets, but through deeper, darker pathways that only her mind could create. Liam, where are you?
She could remember the first time she saw him; so clear despite the many years that had passed since. The sun had just set behind the mountains and its last golden rays had just vanished, leaving the little valley surrounded by twilight. Stepping out of her house for the first time that day, her soft shoes treaded lightly upon the packed dirt and stones of the path toward town. Her chest expanded as she breathed deep of the clean, crisp air. The small village was up ahead, smoke rising from the little chimneys to mingle with the rose-tinted clouds overhead. The tiny houses drew closer until at last she found herself surrounded by them.
It was there, beneath the oak tree in the center of the village square, a boy sat. An open book was in his lap and a feathered quill balanced in the crook of his forefinger and thumb. The ink bottle must have been beside him in the grass, but she hadn’t noticed it at the time. She had only taken notice of his golden hair; the way it fell unfastened in front of his face when his head was tipped downward over his book, yet pieces still managed to stay trapped behind his ears. The shirt, which had been white long ago she was sure, hung loose upon his slender body. He was poor, she could tell that from a distance, but truthfully she didn’t find herself caring. She had lived too long, she had decided long ago, to care about a person’s means. And so the better part of a fortnight went by, with her watching him as he wrote in his little book beneath the tree before she allowed him to spot her as well. She wore her hair down that night.
She rounded the tree behind him, glancing over the boy’s shoulder to read what he’d written. I wait expectantly for my Muse to light my way... Her dark eyebrow arched as she read the line, and the faintest trace of a smile crossed her thin lips. He hadn’t noticed her yet. She leaned forward a little, letting her midnight tresses fall over her shoulder to gently brush the back of his neck. The book closed with a sharp thwack as the boy whipped around, looking up at her with surprise in his deep emerald eyes.
“I am sorry,” she said, her back straightening slightly with her own surprise at his abrupt turn. “I did not mean to startle you.” She smiled and her crimson lips parted to reveal the straight and perfect line of her ivory teeth. He relaxed visibly as she smiled upon him, until after a moment he stood, brushing the dirt and grass from his breeches.
“’Tis nothin’, m’lady,” he said, and she made note of the Irish brogue. Beautiful. As he spoke, her eyes traced over his form, taking in the seemingly perfect proportions of his body, the gently defined muscles that would no doubt be there beneath the oversized shirt, his tousled hair that fell wildly to his shoulders. Perfection. “M’name’s Liam,” he said after a moment, offering her a slightly awkward bow.
Liam… She let the name tumble over in her mind. “I am called Isolde,” she offered, giving him a well-practiced curtsy in response.
She rounded a street corner in front of a Starbuck’s whose lights were out save the one over the register; both a beacon and a warden in the same breath. She continued on though, with hardly a second glance. There were other things on her mind. Things that were more important than where she might be able to find a good cup of coffee at this time of night. The next corner she turned placed her near to her place; a loft apartment in a decently maintained building. Could he have…? She found herself hoping—after all, it wouldn’t seem right to pray—that he had made it home.
The door to her apartment was unlocked. Not how she’d left it. This was either very good or very, very bad. Her hand, clothed in some gloves made of fishnet cut off at the fingers, twisted the knob in utter silence, as though the door itself was afraid of disturbing the stillness of the place. The hinges, too. Utter silence as the door swung open, revealing an entryway just as dark as the city streets had been outside on this no-moon night. Even the meager lighting from the hall did little to penetrate the seemingly overwhelming darkness of the apartment’s interior. Without hesitation she stepped inside and closed the door behind her. She had never been bothered by the dark.
There was someone here. She could hear the heavy breathing of someone gripped by fear. And yet it was familiar to her. Standing in the darkness she could hear the barely audible sound produced by the labored inhaling and exhaling of breath and could distinguish this one from any other.
“Liam.” It wasn’t a question, or a worried call. It was simply a declaration of fact that he was there with her, in the apartment in that very moment.
A small light, the bronze one on the desk, clicked on causing her to squint slightly as her night vision dissolved. Behind the desk with a hand on the switch stood a man with disheveled blond hair, shimmering green eyes, and a gash stretching from his left temple to his cheekbone. She looked him over in one quick glance, making note of the bruised and bleeding knuckles on his hand as he pulled it back from the lamp and the large welt on the upper part of his left arm that was rapidly turning a wide variety of colors. The light, coming up through the hole in the top of the lamp shade lit his face from below, casting strange, twisting shadows over his usually placid features.
“Liam.” This time it was concern, yet also relief that he was here. “What happened to you?” She slid her black leather coat from her slender shoulders and draped it over the back of a chair, all without taking her eyes from his. Her hands glide through her hair, pulling back and smoothing out wisps gone untamed from her brisk walking that evening. The tension in his shoulders visibly lessened as he moved toward her, throwing his arms around her narrow waist even while her hands were still above her head. “You never showed up. That was an hour ago, Liam. What happened?” Her arms lowered to drape over his shoulders, her fingers clasping loosely behind his neck, entwining with his hair.
“They found me out, Isolde. Somehow, they connected me to you.” Taking a moment, he breathes in deeply and stares into her eyes. She always wondered what he saw there. He continued before long, “I lost them a while ago, but I was afraid to move around too much in case they should come back this way.”
“Sit down,” she said, pushing him gently toward the chair where she’d placed her coat. She could see the reluctance in his eyes as his hands slipped from her hips and he took a seat as she directed. With a sidelong glance at him, she turned and walked silently into the kitchen. Ice cubes were deposited in a plastic baggie which was then wrapped in a dish towel before Isolde returned to him. As she handed the ice to Liam, she grabbed his hand, holding it firmly with hers. “You’re shaking,” she said, having noticed the slight tremor in his hand.
“Just adrenaline,” he replied, taking the cloth and its contents from her. She watched him carefully for a moment, before continuing to care for his injuries.
“We’ll have to move again soon,” she said absently, clearly more focused on wiping the blood from his wounds with a tissue she’d grabbed from the little square box on the desk. Her fingers worked with a preternatural grace, barely causing him to stir.
Liam set the towel-wrapped ice over his knuckles and let the coolness seep through the terrycloth. “It’s different this time,” he said as he watched her tend to him. “These guys… they were different.” He wasn’t entirely sure what he meant by that. And yet there had been something about the way these guys followed him; the way they fought. There was something— A searing pain next to his eye caused his thoughts to disintegrate in an instant, and his focus returned to Isolde where she was dabbing at the cut on his face. She’d gotten too good at tending to his wounds. “Isolde…”
She stood and turned from him, trying to make it look as though she needed to retrieve another tissue from the box. But they’d had this conversation too many times before, and Liam knew it was just her way of trying to avoid it. He reached out quickly and grabbed her hand with his, dropping the little bag of ice as he did. She turned back to him and he nearly melted, just like the ice cubes that were slowly turning to liquid from the heat of his skin, so too did he slowly begin to melt away every time she looked at him like that. Like that. Those eyes, the most intense shade of grey he had ever seen. And there was a darker ring around them, just around the iris a ring of storm clouds. He felt his resolve weaken along with his knees as she looked upon him.
He inhaled deeply. She would have to listen this time. “Isolde, haven’t you noticed things have been getting harder lately?” He watched as she slid her hand easily from his grasp with the slightest twist. Apparently ignoring his question, she resumed cleaning up his face, those gorgeous eyes of hers fixed on the bleeding gash. Liam seized the opportunity and pressed forward. “I can’t defend myself… Not like you can.” There was a little twitch behind her left eye, and he knew she was listening. “They come after me to get to you, Isolde.” She was still working. Only the twitch gave anything away. “You’ve made too many enemies.”
SLAM! Faster than he could see, her fist slammed hard onto the desk, small pieces splintering off from the impact. “How many times are you going to ask me?” she yelled at him, the anger in her voice was tangible and Liam found himself pressed back into his chair. “And how many times do I have to say no?” Her gaze withdrew from him and he once again felt he was able to move. So he leaned forward, reaching his bruised hand out to her, but she jerked away roughly and lifted her eyes to meet his once again.
There was something different there this time, he noticed. Something different from the hundreds of other times he’d asked. Something more than anger and annoyance. It was a sadness; a weariness in her gaze, he was sure of it. And it broke his heart to see. “But, Isolde…” He paused and swallowed, surprised by how soft his own voice had become, like he was worried that speaking to loudly would cause her harm.
Her hands moved to his face, her palms beneath his chin and her fingers splayed over his cheeks, cold to the touch as she always was, unless she made an effort to be otherwise. “I won’t do that to you.” He could have spoken the words before her if he’d wanted to—he’d heard them that many times. But then, “I’ve already done enough to you.” That was new.
“What?” His own cerulean eyes were starting back at her in disbelief. What does that mean? he wondered, though he was beginning to fear the answer as her hands broke contact with his skin. He caught her hands in his own before she could pull them too far away from him.
“No.” It was all she said as she pulled her hands away from him again. He watched her walk to the other side of the room.
Liam pushed himself to his feet, and was startled that the weakness he felt when he looked into Isolde’s eyes was still there. With his hand he steadied himself on the chair before crossing the short distance to where she stood, staring at the kitchen as though she wanted something from it but couldn’t remember what. But she wouldn’t be thinking that. With her arms straight down at her sides, Liam easily threaded his hands around her waist, pulling himself close to her. He kept his chest pressed against her, letting her feel the warmth of his body as his arms encircled her and he leaned his head down, letting his blond locks tickle her neck as she had done to him once long ago. Then his head tilted still lower and he kissed the back of her neck softly. Then her shoulders, bare except for the very slender straps of her shirt. “What is it you’re talking about?” he asked her between kisses.
For a moment—a brief moment—he could feel her weight as she leaned back against him, but as soon as the question was asked she stiffened, he could feel her body tense within his arms, and she pulled away again in silence. Not one to give up, especially with Isolde (after all, if he’d given up on her when they’d met…then where would he be?), Liam stepped after her once again, though this time his leg buckled beneath his weight, almost as though it were nothing solid at all. All at once his mind became a kaleidoscope, out of focus images swirling around him. He was vaguely aware of the strong arms that caught him almost before he hit the floor. There was a voice, just at the edge of his muddled perceptions. He strained to hear it, to focus on it.
“Liam.” It was Isolde. “What is it?” She sounded concerned. He tried to hold himself up, but was only able to lean against her. She said something else then, but he missed it. His eyes locked with hers and the question was asked again, firmly this time, as though to a child who was trying to avoid getting himself in trouble. “Did you eat today?”
Eat? That was it. He shook his head. The thought of doing more than that was hardly able to stay in his mind. He felt himself be shaken a bit, and he forced his eyes to stay on hers.
“When did you eat last?” He couldn’t realize it then, but afterwards, he would marvel at how calm her voice had been, given what he was telling her.
But as it was, he forced a few words from his brain to his lips. “A week… Ran out.”
The foolish boy. She knelt there holding him as he started to fade, to slip away, literally before her eyes. How long had it been?
“A week… Ran out.”
In her mind she cursed him a thousand times for being so foolish. For not saying anything. Hadn’t he learned by now? No, she supposed, he hadn’t. In all their years he’d never gone so long before, and so, she believed, he didn’t realize the danger in it. Yet while her mind was thinking these things, her body was reacting. Holding him easily, cradled in her left arm, she raised her other arm and brought her wrist to her mouth. Her teeth pierced the soft flesh effortlessly and her tongue was immediately accosted by the warm, metallic taste of blood. Isolde tipped his head up as she brought the bleeding wound to his lips.
As his mind swirled, Liam drifted back through the years until he was sitting beneath his oak tree again, and Isolde’s dark hair brushed playfully against the back of his neck. Her curtsy had been so graceful, and she spoke her name before he’d even asked for it.
“I am called Isolde.” Such a beautiful name, and such a lovely voice, though he couldn’t place where she was from.
“I’m from Wales originally,” she would tell him later. “But I haven’t been there in years.” Whenever she spoke, he noticed, she would speak of years, and yet she looked no older than he did. He wondered about it for a time, though it did not take long before he accepted the idiom.
“Run away with me,” he told her one night, a few months after she had startled him beneath his tree. They were lying out in his father’s field, watching the stars.
“You don’t want me to do that.” But he didn’t let that stop him. He rolled onto his side, bracing his head with his hand so he could look over at her. Her black hair had fallen in a ring around her head as she stared up at the empty sky. That had been a no-moon night, too.
“I do,” he said simply.
Her head turned to the side and the intensity of her grey eyes startled him as she looked at him as if gauging to see if he was lying.
“No you don’t.”
A week went by, and every night they would walk down the lonely paths of the woods or lie out and watch the stars. Every night he would ask her to run away with him. And every night she would say no. Until one night when they were walking in the woods, weaving their own paths between the trees, he turned to her and stopped her in mid step. “I love you, Isolde,” he said, and he reached out to grasp her hands. “Whenever we’re apart, I desire nothing more that to see you, and I am with you, I despair of ever leaving your side.” He drew into his mind everything about this moment; the sound of the leaves rustling over their heads, the scent of the forest around them, the splendor of the woman who was standing before him, the exact color of her dress and how the corset hugged close to her body, but the skirts fell loose around her, not giving the slightest hint of where her legs were beneath. He captured it all, promising to remember every detail for the rest of his days.
Crimson warmth flowing over his lips brought him back to the present. Clarity returned to him in an instant and his eyes regarded Isolde as he looked at her over the arm held to his mouth. When the arm moved away from him, his tongue traced over his lips, to which the color was already beginning to return, to make sure no drop had been left behind. He remained on the floor for a bit and though he no longer needed her support to keep himself upright, Liam remained in her embrace, feeling the strength of her arms bearing his weight. Breathing heavily, slowly, in an out, he watches Isolde, letting her hold him in silence.
For a long while the only sound was of Liam’s breathing, and he was acutely aware of it in that moment. Before long, though, Isolde’s voice cut through the stillness of the apartment. “This is what I’m talking about.” She pulled him close, and he suddenly found himself lost in the dark forest of her hair. Her lips brushed against his ear as she spoke, and he felt a shiver run through his body. “I should never have done this to you.” He wove his arms around her again and held her just as tightly.
His voice sounded muffled as he spoke into her shoulder, “Why are you saying this?” He was pushed away from her and found himself staring into her saddened eyes.
“What if I hadn’t come back?” she asked, and her voice suddenly took on more emotion than it had in a long while. “Just now. What if I’d circled once more to look for you?” He knew what she was saying, but he didn’t want to hear it so he averted his eyes from her, hoping it would make her leave it at that. “You would have died.”
Liam returns his crystal blue gaze to hers. “I’m alright, Isolde. That’s never happened before.”
“I know, but dammit, Liam! It’s been too long. We can’t stop now, not ever. You’ll die if we stop. It’s not fair to you… I’ve bound you to me for eternity, and you have no choice but to follow me, or else you’ll die. It’s not fair to you, Liam, and I never should have done it.”
He pushed himself onto his knees, though he was still holding her. “Isolde,” he began, his voice was as gentle and as full of love and adoration as the first time he asked her to run away with him. “My love, I have been with you for seven lifetimes. Why in all the world would I want to leave you now?” He tried to fathom what had caused her to feel this way so suddenly, but he couldn’t grasp why it would come up now. Now after nearly seven hundred years. “You know I would never want that, Isolde. What I’m asking of you is the opposite: I want you to make me—” But she pushed herself away from him, and he was left embracing nothing but air. He let his hands fall into his lap as he watched her walk away from him for the second time that night.
“I won’t do it,” she said, the firmness returning to her voice yet again. She turned back to look upon Liam where he was still kneeling on the floor. Staring at her. Like a hurt puppy. He had perfected the look after so many years, and it aggravated her to no end. “I’ve already damned you once, Liam. I won’t do it again.”
“It’s a gift.”
He hadn’t just said that. How could he have lived with her for so long and still be able to say such a thing? He’d seen her at her worst; had seen the creature she could become. How could he say that? She could feel an anger swelling within her, deep in the pit of her stomach. She forced it down. How could he say that? She ignored it, turning away from him again, giving him the benefit of the doubt that he hadn’t meant it. She heard his weight shift as he stood up.
“Isolde…” If he has learned anything at all, she thought, gritting her teeth. He’ll leave it at that. “It’s a gift I want to share.” Fool.
He hadn’t seen her move.
He barely finished his sentence before she was on him. He felt her fingernails dig into his flesh as she clutched the front of his shirt and pulled him roughly toward her. She spun, and he had no choice but to spin with her, slamming into the wall behind her; then he heard the fabric tear as she lifted him off the ground (were the situation different, he might have thought it an odd sight). But he hadn’t seen her move.
Her eyes were more intense now, somehow, and within their depth he could clearly see the beast he’d inadvertently let out. Shit. Living with her for the better part of seven centuries, Liam had encountered this side of Isolde before, but it was never any less terrifying than the first time. Her eyes were boring into him as she held him there. “It’s a curse!” she screamed at him, and he instantly saw that her fangs had grown to their full length. “I’ve cursed you once! Why would you think I would ever do it again?” As she spoke she pulled him from the wall and smashed him back into it again, adding emphasis to her point. “You’ve seen what I can become!” Her face was contorted in anger and, in the moment, she looked truly monstrous. But Liam could do nothing except helplessly cling to the hands that held him in the air and stare fearfully down at Isolde. He wanted to speak, but he had no idea what he would say, or even if his voice would not leave him if he tried.
She yanked him away from the wall again, though this time she spun, releasing her grip on him as she did so. As he stuck the side of the chair on the other side of the room, Liam was unsure if the loud snapping sound he heard was the wood or his bones splintering. The room had flown past him in that instant, and as his sight gradually came back into focus, the sharp pains throughout his body seemed to increase with his awareness. His sapphire eyes grew wide in terror as he saw her stalking toward him. He tried to push himself backward, to scramble to his feet, but he was caught in the smashed pieces of the chair, and it only seemed to make the stabbing pain in his back worse.
She was glaring at him when she reached him, and if looks had the power to kill, Liam was sure that he would have died a horrible, pitiless death in her gaze. Her hand reached down, grasping at him where he was trapped with his own limps entwined with the broken ones of the chair. Purposefully, her hand gripped his throat. Liam caught his breath as she picked him up; lifted him out of the tangled mess by the one hand on his neck. He felt the ground beneath his feet again, but it did nothing to ease the pressure on his throat. His hands flew to her fingers, trying to pry them from him, but he didn’t have a chance. Not against her. Not like this.
“Isolde!” He was barely able to croak out the words. “Please.”
The anger she had been trying to keep down—the predator the always tried to keep buried deep within her—she could hear it growling, scratching at its bonds, waiting for its time to be let out to play. Now.
With her back to Liam, she had closed her eyes. She was concentrating, forcing it down, but she couldn’t hold on. She felt herself be thrown back, at least in her mind, and something else took her place. Something that spoke for her and acted for her. And it would kill for her.
The target of her rage, radiating the terrified warmth of prey, had landed with a satisfying crack on the other end of the room, and now she was moving toward it with malicious intent. Her hand wrapped around the meat of its neck, and she could feel the pulse beneath her finger tips. The steady rhythm, moving so quickly now out of fear. Fear. It was wafting from it now, the scent so sweet to her nostrils. That beating within its breast and the throbbing in its neck; she would make them stop. She would silence the pounding that had suddenly taken hold of her perception. This squirming thing in her hand would cease to writhe, to breathe. But then…
“Isolde! Please.” Wait! She forced her grip to loosen and although she turned away from it, she heard it strike the floor and begin to gasp and choke. Her muscles tightened as she fought the beast back into it chains, silencing it. At least for now. Isolde opened her eyes. She could hear Liam behind her still coughing, and she was vaguely aware of what had happened. She could smell the blood under her fingernails and she knew what she’d done. And what she’d almost done.
Almost afraid of what she would see, Isolde turned slowly to look at Liam. His hair had fallen over his face as he sat with is head bowed. One hand was braced against the floor while the other massaged his throat. Her keen eyes could see deep scratches beneath his fingers from where she had grabbed him. His shirt too was torn, and there was the faintest trickle of blood beneath. She could see no other new wounds on him from where she stood, yet even now she could smell the fear coming from him. Almost as though he could feel her gaze on him, he raised his head only a little, so that she could see his eyes through the strands of his blond hair. He was looking at her.
What could she say? There was never anything to say after something like this. Her control had shattered and she nearly killed him. He’d nearly died for the second time that night, and what could she say. Sorry? There was nothing to say. Not after she’d lost control. She saw his gaze on her and she turned, walking away from where he had fallen, opening the door into the dreary hallway, and stepping outside into the darkness of the new moon night. She closed the door behind her, and he did not rise to follow.
To be continued...