They sat on the crest of a hill, a place where the tall grass and flowers waved back and forth, shimmering in the dream-sway. The sun filtered down through clouds too impossible for reality to make. Light glowed along the crest of her neck and danced over her long white hair, giving the illusion of a soft flowing waterfall.
They met there, in their chosen place, as often as they could manage. She slipped away from the protective circle of her Gathering, and he made excuses about why he needed to travel from the gates on Nefol. Whether anyone realized what they were doing, he didn’t know. If someone did figure it out, he wondered if he cared.
Nothing could stop KoGuRai from coming to see her. Not even his father’s disappointed frown, which he was sure that he would earn if this aberrant behavior was discovered. It didn’t matter — he was in love with JouKa.
“I wrote you a poem,” KoGuRai told her, massaging the small of her back between both hands.
“Again?” she gave him a chiding grin. JouKa always thought it was funny that he aspired to be a writer rather than a warrior. But secretly, he could tell that she was flattered.
“Yes, but I seemed to have misplaced it on the trip,” he answered with a grave frown.
“Then why did ya tell me about it if yer not gonna to read it ta me?” she wrinkled her nose at him from over her shoulder. “Ya always tell me about these poems I never get ta hear.”
“I don’t know. Because I hoped that it was the thought that counts?” his best winning smile broke across his face.
“You’re such a tease, KoGu,” JouKa huffed and teasingly shrugged his hand off of her back.
“I could give you the gist of what it was about,” he grinned even more. “It proclaimed your beauty and intelligence to sun and the moons and the stars.”
“Is that all?” she pouted playfully, then wrapped her arms around his neck. Leaning against his chest, she stroked her fingers through his hair.
“Of course not! It was an epyllion that sang your adoration and wonder! Never was there a poem that graced the face of this world, and never will there be one like it again!” KoGuRai spread his arms wide to demonstrate the vastness of it all.
JouKa simply smiled and poked his nose, “And you lost it?”
“So tell me, when are you actually going to write me a real poem?”
“I’m working on it,” he answered truthfully. “I’ve just hit a block lately.”
“Your father again?”
“Always. He just sucks the inspiration right out of the room,” he grumbled making a slurping motion with one hand. “I swear if I hear him rag me one more time for missing practice…”
“You’ll what?” she gave him a knowing smile.
“I don’t know. All I do know is that I just can’t be what he wants me to be. But he can’t let it go,” KoGuRai shook his head. “Anything I did as a warrior would just amount to me walking in the shadows of the great JinRai. And… that’s just not me.”
“Then what are you?” JouKa tilted her head.
He took the opportunity to plant a soft, searching kiss on her lips. “This is..?”
“You are so melodramatic.” She gave a throaty laugh, but didn’t pull away.
“That’s why you love me,” KoGuRai leaned down, taking the cue to kiss her again. Words at that point, escaped the writer in him. It became a blur of touching, kissing and softly breathed phrases. Emotions… dreams… that faded into the darkness of reality.
As KoGuRai found sensation in his limbs again, he felt something cold. Hard. Metal. Against his face. The sound of voices floated from the darkness, somewhere above him. Strange voices with thick accents. It took a moment for him to decipher what they were saying. Then, he realized they were talking about him.
“What kind of creature do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
“They say the black blood can burn a hole right through your flesh!”
“Aww, that’s not true,” a snort of disbelief.
“It is! I swear it is! I saw it with my own eyes,” another voice protested. “You shoulda seen what it did to Cyril when we were capturing the beast! Tore straight through his hand!”
“Why didn’t they just slaughter the monster out in the forest? Why did they bring this cursed thing back here? It reeks to high heavens!”
“It was the Chief’s orders,” came the answer.
“Has the Chief gotten a good look at it yet?”
“I don’t know,” there was some hesitation.
“I think they’re all worried there might be more of these things out there somewhere. We don’t know where it came from, you know? So they figured if we could capture it, we could find out what is effective against it, in case it has some buddies,” one gruff voice intoned.
“I still don’t think that it’s very smart. Killing it straight out would give us just as much an answer, if you ask me.”
“Well, ain’t no one asking you,” a jeer broke the conversation. “And the Chief wants to see all your ugly faces, right now. So you best break it up and get a move on.”
“Yeah… yeah… whatever.”
“Give a guy a blade and he thinks he can push the whole tribe around,” someone snuffed.
Despite the general annoyance at the orders, senses told KoGuRai that the group was dissipating. The voices bantered and grew more distant, leaving a welcomed silence. He tried to lift his head, but the moment he moved, a searing pain rushed through his torso, leaving him immobilized.
“Ugh,” his voice cracked in his ears, hardly sounding like his voice at all. Pain burned through his chest in warning that he was breathing a little too hard.
Where am I?
This time, he attempted to only move his chin, ever so slightly. Just his eyes, peering over the back of his arm. He didn’t know if it was night time or if his vision was just that impaired. It was hard to make anything out for the darkness. There were lines of cold shadow that rose up around him on every side. Something in his mind translated them into the metal bars of a cage.
The fools have captured me.
With that thought echoing in his mind, he attempted to push himself up on his palms. Try as he might, KoGuRai found his body too weak to respond to his demands. He knew that the battle had taken a lot out of him, and that even before the attack, he lost a lot of blood.
There’s something more to this, though.
His fingers felt along the length of his arm, then down around his wrists. There he found that two heavy shackles were clamped tight against his skin. They seemed to be made of a silvery metal that reflected strangely, even in the surrounding darkness. Inspecting them, KoGuRai got the feeling of something drawing inwards, sapping his strength and power. Something that confined him far worse than the bars of a cage could.
They didn’t take any chances with me. Not that I blame them.
The muttering grumble sent another round of pain through his chest. Ignoring the aching, KoGuRai pushed himself into a slump up against the bars. It was hard to see in the darkness, to attempt to make out the damage that had been done to his already battered form.
I’ve just got to think. I’ve been in worse situations. There’s got to be a way out of this.
For a long time, all he could do was lay there. Every time he attempted to focus on some means to escape, which seemed unlikely, his mind wandered off in a feverish haze. It wasn’t until he had finally dozed back off that he heard the sound of stirring outside his cage again.
“Be careful,” a warning, female voice spoke. “I heard this was a dangerous one.”
“They’ve got it Locked, right?” a second voice asked.
“I think so. But it’s supposed to be worse than a neidr.”
“Is that possible?”
“It’s just what I heard,” came the reply. Then a low grunt. “Come on, help me with this.”
“Hold on, hold on. I’m coming,” the other voice sighed. “It figures the men go out and drag home these things, and leave them for us to look after!”
KoGuRai stirred at the sound of scuffling. His dark eyes squinted as a pale light filtered down on him, through the bars. He then realized that there was a cloth draped over the outside of his cage, leaving everything in darkness. As the cloth pulled away, two shadows stood against the white of the skyline.
Instantly there was a gasp, “What in the eye of the flamin’ sun?”
Then a long silence as the shadows stared down at him. He, in turn, attempted to make out their features, beyond simple blobs of darkness. A practiced admirer such as himself could easily identify the curves of a female figure, despite the blur of his vision.
“They weren’t kidding when they said they caught a monster,” one of the shadows whispered to the other after observing him for a moment.
“Yeah, it’s weird. It almost looks like it could have been a man.”
Hearing the first hints of concern to come his way in a long time, KoGuRai struggled to find his voice. Squinting against the light, he managed to hiss a single sound through his dry and swollen throat, “…bright…”
Unfortunately, it didn’t have the effect he had hoped for. One let off a yelping scream, dropping whatever she was carrying and sending things scattering all over. He groaned as the clattering sound rang sharply, paining his acute hearing.
“It talks!” she wailed.
His first instinct was to silence her shout. It probably wasn’t a good idea if the whole village knew that he possessed intelligence above that of the monster they expected. He couldn’t muster enough strength to do more than wince at the sound.
“Shhhh!” the second figure hissed, quickly putting a hand over the first’s open mouth. “You’re going to scare it by screaming like that!”
“Scare it? You’ve got to be kidding? Look at that thing!”
KoGuRai tried to appear as unassuming as possible. He could tell by their frowns that he wasn’t very successful. As his dark eyes began to adjust to the light, he could make out the wary faces of two young women.
They were dressed in short-cropped clothing, far less covering than the girls back home wore. One had braided, shoulder-length reddish-gold hair and the other had a shock of crimson that fell straight down her back in a tie. They both bore exotic blue-violet colored eyes and sun-freckled faces, well-tanned by time spent on warm, balmy beaches.
At least if I have to be a prisoner here, the girls are pretty…
“I think it’s watching us,” said the red-gold.
“I wonder if it can understand what we’re saying,” the other swallowed, not looking too comfortable at the thought.
KoGuRai attempted to respond, but it came out as nothing more than a long groan.
“I think he’s trying to say something.”
“Be careful,” warned the first. “Just because it can talk doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.”
“He’s in a cage. I’ll be fine,” she replied, leaning closer to the bars. It was obvious that she was working very hard to hold her poise, coming so close to him. “Hello?”
KoGuRai weakly raised two fingers.
“Did you see that?” the girl turned to her companion. “I really think he understands!”
“Well, ask him something,” the other didn’t look too certain.
“Okay, um…” she turned her blue-violet eyes back to the cage. “You look pretty sick. Do you need something?”
KoGuRai opened his mouth, a hissing sound spouting from between his lips. At first, this seemed to alarm his two onlookers, until they realized he was trying to respond. Finally, he managed to rasp, “…food… water…”
The two looked at each other, then back at KoGuRai.
“We’ve got food and water right here,” one of the girls spoke. “I’m going to put it through the bars of your cage, so don’t you move, now. No coming after me when I put it down. Alright?”
He gave the slightest of nods.
She seemed content with his response, because both of the girls crouched down to pick up the things that they dropped earlier. Apparently they were the ones charged to bring him his meal and water. Somewhat skittish, the girl left the bowls there, just on the other side of the bars. It took a bit of effort on his part to reach them, but when he did, the water felt so good along his swollen throat.
“What should we do?” one of the girls asked, watching KoGuRai gulp down the meal. “Do you think there’s been a mistake? Maybe he’s not a monster after all?”
“I don’t know. I think we should talk to my brother and see what he says,” the other replied.
“Yeah, maybe. I wouldn’t put it past those blasted men to lock something up before they knew what it really was,” she scowled darkly.
KoGuRai listened as they talked for a while longer, discussing the proper way of dealing with things. Though the food wasn’t the best, it was far more than he had in a while. And it was possible, with time and rest, that he could heal up enough to be functional once more.
The Marked Champion hid the slight fanged smile as he watched the two girls walk away. His chances for escape just increased exponentially.