The Cost

Another story and poem! The short stories are weaving together, bit by bit. I have no idea where they’re going though…

***

The Cost

“How’s your stomach?” Maine asked quietly, glowing eyes full of concern in the dim light.

Maya groaned and rolled over, putting her back to him in response. Her stomach throbbed with agony, at times aching so badly, she couldn’t bear to breathe. She forced herself to draw air deliberately through her nose and out between her gritted teeth. It was a struggle, not only to handle the liquid pain sloshing through her, but also the acute anxiety flooding her brain. Poison was a nasty thing. Enduring it was a nightmare.

“She’ll be here soon,” Maine promised, voice wavering. Watching his twin be stabbed with a poisoned blade was the last thing he wanted to do on a Saturday night, but he’d had little choice in that matter. Now all he could do was send ragged prayers to the gods that they would deliver his sister from harm.

Picking up the big electric lantern, Maine went to the window and peered restlessly through the slatted blinds. The streetlamp didn’t show much, but it was enough to light the front walkway. If she was coming, he would be able to see her.

Maya exhaled with a shuddering breath and pressed her cheek to the cold wood floor, trying to glean soothing comfort for her boiling skin. The fever was making her lungs feel dense, as if they weren’t meant to hold air at all, and she just wanted to stop sweating. She wanted to stop feeling nauseous, too, but the roiling, churning illness wouldn’t leave her be. If she vomited now, the agony it would cause her already pain-wracked stomach would be unbearable.

Just then, they heard another eruption of gunfire, closer than the last. Maya shut her eyes tightly, begging under her breath that the soldiers keep moving, skip over their hideout, and Maine darted back from the blinds, flicking off the lantern till the gun shots had faded and they were sure they were safe. He then put the lantern on once more and knelt by his sister’s side.

“I swear they won’t be much longer,” he whispered, touching Maya’s arm and hating how hot she felt. “She promised she’d come as soon as she possibly could.”

Maya said nothing. She rocked slightly on the ground, her head spinning as she began to lose control of her mind. She couldn’t possibly wait any longer. The pain searing through her flesh was intense, surely nothing a mortal body could reasonably survive, and at this point she wasn’t even sure she could be helped.

But Maine would be lost without her. She couldn’t let him be alone.

Maine saw that she was struggling, saw that she was giving up, and whimpered desolately at the thought of losing her. His heart nearly stopped with relief when the door suddenly flew open and she was there—Idynn, the twins’ mentor and the only one who knew how to save Maya from her wounds.

Idynn crashed into the room like an ocean breaker against the shore, the burnt-out lights flickering on briefly as she passed and the dust on the floor spiralling out from beneath her feet. Those eerie black eyes of hers darted about, making everything her gaze touched quiver with dread. Maine lost his breath, staring at her, and as she brushed past him, she touched his cheek with her hand and murmured, “Be still, dear son.”

He felt numb as he watched her kneel by his sister’s side to assess the damage that had been done. His attention was then drawn away by movement, near the door. The wind howling out in the street was ruffling the clothes and feathers of a young, bruised boy. He stood looking lost in the doorway, the massive pair of black wings on his back trembling with apprehension.

Maine opened his mouth to greet the stranger but Idynn beat him to it. “Come, Branding,” she commanded. “I need you here.”

Wide-eyed, the boy stepped into the room and did as Idynn requested. His face whitened when he saw the terrible wound that Maya had suffered, but Idynn grabbed his hand and made him kneel. “This is why I have brought you here,” she explained. “You are to help this young woman, as only you can.”

The boy named Branding looked confused. “I d-don’t—” he stammered, but then fell silent. “My mother,” he said suddenly, and Maine, uncomprehending, was driven to speech.

“Your mother?” he said, words hanging in the air as if trapped by fine silk webs, and the boy nodded slowly.

He looked up at Idynn, seeming to understand now, and said, “It was for a reason.” Idynn put a gentle hand on his shoulder, inclining her head in assent, and then gestured for him to tend to Maya. Wings still shaking, he strained to pick up Maya in his arms. She cried out, as her torn stomach was disturbed, but he persevered. The pain was unavoidable, yet this had to be done.

Staggering under Maya’s weight, Branding carried her across the room and out into the darkened street. He carried her under the streetlamp and into the cobblestone road, laying her there under the faint moonlight. He then reached to his back, grabbing a fistful of feathers and plucking them from his wings. It didn’t hurt, pulling them out, and he scattered them across Maya’s pain-filled form. He continued doing this, plucking out all the feathers he had, until he was left only with bones on his back and Maya was covered in a silky black covering.

Idynn came up behind him then, putting her mouth close to his ear and murmuring, “Just as the mother sacrifices her dream for a stranger, so too shall you.”

Idynn then stepped in front of him, putting herself between Branding and Maya. She raised her hands, shadows swirling thick as smoke around her fingers, and began speaking in a convoluted version of English. Maine came up beside Branding, breathing shallowly and looking anxious, and both boys watched in awe as Idynn cast her spell.

A flash of lightning suddenly split the darkness, touching down very close to Maya’s prone form, and Idynn screamed something to the sky. Her scream was soon joined by one from Maya’s lips, except that Maya’s scream was one of pure agony. She writhed beneath the feathers, spine arching and legs kicking as anguish pounded through her body. It was a long time before she fell still and quiet, and when she next arose, the black feathers gleaming keenly in the silvery moonlight, Maine dropped the lantern in shock.

Maya stared at him with the gold eyes of a hawk, and Idynn grinned with glee.

***

His daughter was a pirate,

A plunderer of gold.

Her habits much concerned him–

All the stories that she told.

She lived a life of danger,

Of glory and of wealth,

By preying on the weak

And thinking only of herself.

He warned her many times

That he’d not have her act this way,

But she had just ignored him,

Gave him not the time of day.

So when came her darkest hour,

Trouble she could not escape,

And she begged him to come save her,

He just blindly turned away.

His daughter was a pirate,

A reckless girl who disobeyed,

Who met untimely justice

Left afloat upon the waves.

***

Tell me what you think! :)

-Alex

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