Rasmus didn’t want to stay in the wizard’s mansion. Even Kaia felt a little nervous. But taking him up on the offer made sense. From the way Maverik paid, from the clothes he wore and the magical instruments he adorned himself with, they long knew he was ridiculously well off. Or really, really bad with money.
And usually, she had no problems with his charity. It was at their meetings, in which the mage tried to convince them to take a horrible and dangerous job, that she was the best fed. Bribery was Maverik’s forte, and that’s what unnerved her brother about his asking them to stay.
But for Kaia, the curiosity was Maverik’s behavior in the last few months. All of the sudden, instead of hiring them out, sending them off to do his bidding and hiding away himself, he insisted on coming with. He had been more amiable, even attempting to talk to her, but she was having none of it.
When they got to the house, the wizard insisted on giving them a tour. Kaia and Rasmus exchanged looks as Maverik showed off his large mansion, three stories with hundreds of rooms, many just bedrooms and servants quarters.
Despite what they would expect of a wizard, he liked light colors. His house had large windows with clear glass panes. There was carpeting on the floor in every room, red or cream, with the exception of a few halls made of shiny wood.
There was more artwork than there was furniture, white statues, colorful paintings of fruit and women. Outside the home was white with large columns around the doors, the long wall filled with windows and several balconies.
Maverik had dinner prepared for them, had his servant take their things, insisted that the siblings sit close to him on the long table.
By the time introductions were over and he left them to explore on their own, insisting they didn’t have to stay in their rooms the entire night, Rasmus was twitching. The wizard left them to their own devices, to which Kaia said, “What makes him think we’re not going to steal anything? I mean, what? Does he trust us?” She looked to her brother. “Something’s weird.”
“Of course it’s weird,” Rasmus whispered. “He’s been weird since he made the offer. I think he wants something.”
His frown remained as she touched his shoulder and led him back towards the west wing of the house.
“Odds are, he’s pissed someone off, and he just wants you to save his ass when they try to kill him,” she said.
“Then how come your room is the one close to his bedroom?” he muttered.
Her step slowed. That hadn’t occurred to her, so sure she was right. She recovered quickly, smiling.
“Clearly he needs the blood of a virgin,” she said, now shoving her brother. “So he needs you to be far enough away that I can’t save you when he comes at you with a syringe.”
“He could just ask,” Rasmus muttered. “Whatever he wants, we’d give it to him.”
The girl’s face fell begrudgingly at him ignoring her.
There came a knock on her door. Kaia tore herself from the fortress of pillows and blankets. It was far too early to sleep, the light still trailing through the actual glass windows. She just couldn’t help herself from laying in an actual bed when it was right there and all.
When Kaia crossed the carpeted flooring, the soft red under her toes, something sunk in her chest. It was the mixed feeling of euphoric luxury and knowing this kind of comfort would always be borrowed for her. She would never begin to have this kind of money. Or safety.
She opened the door to see Maverik standing there, golden eyes looking stern. She sensed his nerves before she fully swung open the threshold.
“Hello, good sir,” she said cheerfully. “Murderers here already?”
He didn’t even consider what she meant. “I need to have a word with you.”
Kaia sighed, slumping. “Oh, God. Rasmus hasn’t been possessed, has he?”
Now he frowned in confusion.
“Why are you coming to me?” she explained. “Unless this isn’t a problem he can handle? Right? We need to make a plan without him? Because he’s possessed? Or has a… demonic leech?”
“There’s no problem,” he said flatly. “We need to talk, and I don’t want to have your brother walking in on us.”
She studied him skeptically.
“Alright,” she shrugged. “But I’ll have you know I’m terrible at keeping secrets.”
He just snorted.
When he walked across the long hall—past the portraits on the wallpapered wall, flames in glass-covered lanterns dancing subtly—she followed in a skip. Until he reached for his own door, she wasn’t suspicious. Maverik was a calculating man, a possible traitor for the right price, but she never was worried.
She stopped short.
“We can talk here,” she said.
He shook his head. “Come on, Kaia. Just get in here.”
She mulled it over. “Why?”
Maverik turned sharply. His expression seemed angry. Usually he had a better tolerance. “Do you think I’m going to hurt you?”
She held up her shoulders. “I don’t know what you’re doing. You’re being strange!”
He puffed up. “Fine. Then stand out here until you figure it out!”
The wizard turned on his heel, his red cape flying. He stormed out through the glass doors where the light of the setting sun glistened. Kaia hesitated, stunned. That blew up quickly. She expected more warning signs. She went in after him.
He was out on a balcony. It hadn’t occurred to her that, despite there being so many rooms in the house, she was now upstairs, close to him, in a space difficult to escape from. She kept her eyes on him, sauntering up to his side.
At first Maverik stared at the sun. This side of his house faced the wilderness, a long plain with some trees speckling the right. The day was ending in blossomed pinks and reds over the distant mountains. When Kaia was little, her brother told her that the sun went down in the Wyrd, kidnapped and bound so the moon could come out. The moon, weakened over time, he explained, which is why it shrunk and grew, and had to use magic to force its older brother to let it come back to the sky, to take energy from the world’s people.
She had always thought that was ridiculous, even as a child, until Rasmus explained to her that he had gotten the story from their mother. Now she’d insist it was true to anyone who’d stomach her.
Finally Maverik looked at her and noticed her expression.
He jumped, annoyed. “Why are you being so difficult tonight?”
“This is weird,” she said as though he was a slow child. “You allow us into your house, you make us as separate as you possibly could, you ask me to come out here alone… Where you could easily just—” She made a shoving gesture towards the railing, “Push me off…”
His face darkened, “I’m not trying to kill you.”
“You do realize we are alone in your bedroom. Technically.”
Finally his face softened when he laughed, but he just shook his head, looking away.
She raised a shoulder in mock innocence. “A man and a woman of a certain age, alone, in his home. It could raise suspicions.”
“My servants are gone save for Esben, who is very old and can’t hear anything. No one comes out this way. It is my property, and on foul days I am adamant about keeping off trespassers. You don’t wander onto a sorcerer’s land. Who are you afraid of seeing us?”
She thought deliberately. “My dignity. Judgmental whore, that one.”
He just stared at her. She shifted in surrender, smiling as she draped an arm across the railing.
“Why are we here?”
His eyes dropped, and he hesitated. “You’ll know when you know.”
She thought about this, her brown eyes turning towards the darkening sky. She waited.
“Nope, I have no idea,” she said. “Does this have to do with Rasmus?”
“I can’t tell you. But it will become immediately obvious.”
She gave him a face. He turned to her. There was a look of sympathy, a look of grief, a look of begging that made her jump.
“You’re usually more curious than this,” he muttered.
But his expression, the way he turned towards her, stared at her, watching her, not glossing over her and focusing on manipulating her brother, that was what was unusual.
Over the past few months, she had attributed his subtle severity to the context, the more open and honest dialogues with her due to proximity. But now, as his eyes on her were focused, intense, she felt unnerved. She leaned back, gaze on him. His mouth just curved down, but he didn’t look away.
Suddenly a flash of pain streaked through her head.
Kaia stumbled back, her vision blurry, cursing when she thought she might topple over. She reached for the banister, but Maverik caught her by the arm.
Then, just as quick as the pain came, it was gone.
“What did you—”
Memories started flooding back.
Memories in the dark, walking under the moon, talking to Rasmus by the light of the campfire, chasing down goblins through black sage brush, seeking werewolves and trying to lure out an alleged vampire. Just random recollections of many, many nights returned to her, all jumped in a mess. Then she saw Maverik. Underneath her. Naked. Her on top of him, him inside her. His face was stern, focused, but he then smiled up at her, looking at her with joy. She felt it too. She remembered running to him in a forest while Rasmus unknowingly marched on. Kaia threw her arms around Maverik, kissing him hard. She remembered a night—last night—them talking.
It had been out in the wilderness, the middle of the woods, when the first sign of the city’s high towers appeared above the split of the road. Maverik had led her away, serious—as much as he ever was.
“I’m going to invite you two to my manor,” he said.
“Oh,” she grinned, rounding a large tree for a way to climb up it. “That won’t be suspicious at all.”
He tilted his head. “We’re tired, Kaia. We’ve been wandering about for months. You have been complaining about sores on your feet all day.”
She popped her head around the trunk, in good humor. “Maybe that’s just to get you to look at me.”
He didn’t smile back. “You don’t care about me.”
“Well, clearly since I’m here, I do,” she said, trying to gauge the distance between her and the first branch.
He just shook his head. “I’ll be talking to Rasmus about it. I’m sure that you’ll help me, but… I’m not positive I can convince the two of you.”
“Nice, big manor, possibly filled with ghosts?” She jumped. She missed. She brushed herself off. “Why would I deny you?”
He shrugged, looking away.
Kaia dropped her obsession, noticing his expression. She walked to him, putting her arms up around him and smiling. “Maverik, use your words.”
He snapped a look. “Don’t patronize me.”
She pressed her lips to his. At first he was unaccepting, but slowly his hands went to her waist. He was tense. Kaia pulled away, a pain in her chest.
“I wish you would let me tell you.”
But she didn’t respond.
Something was holding her back. What?
On the balcony, Kaia looked at Maverik. He watched her carefully, holding her upright. But it was almost professional, business-like.
“Oh my God,” she whispered.
“You’ve been blacking out these past couple of months,” he said. “When I came to you to discuss the boyg job, I sensed something was wrong. You admitted to me that every night you remembered everything, but in the day, you forgot it all. It had been happening for a few weeks before I came. You hoped I could help you.”
“And I haven’t noticed?!” she squeaked.
Even as he spoke, the memories came back to her.
“I don’t know,” he explained. “I think it’s a part of the curse—if that’s what it is. You tend to forget a few hours before sunset and some time before dawn. When you ended up somewhere you didn’t remember going to, or when we did something in the night you didn’t recall, you did suggest to me, that next night, you were suspicious. But I don’t entirely have a good understanding on what you remember and what you don’t. I think it doesn’t always occur to you to ask yourself how you got somewhere.”
“But…” she searched the horizon. The sun wasn’t fully down yet. “Rasmus hasn’t noticed either?”
He shrugged, his brow upset. “I don’t know. It doesn’t seem like it. But you told me not to tell him. You go out of your way to keep it a secret from him… and yourself. About us…”
She remembered that. She remembered constantly putting in an effort to wake where she had fallen asleep. She didn’t want to know. But, as she tried to remember why, her logic, it came fuzzy, convoluted.
He touched her shoulder. “Don’t try so hard. By the end of the night, all your memories will be back… I mean, as much as we ever have ‘all’ of them.”
She gazed up at him, and realized the new feelings. Her face heated up. She had a vision of him kissing her neck, her wrapping her legs around him. Of when she first untied the belt that kept her too large shirt at bay, when she let him pull it off of her, despite him being fully dressed. She remembered the fear it was a trick, that he would strip her and then leave her, humiliated. But she had wanted him so bad. Why?
They had been sleeping together for a month now.
“And you didn’t tell me?” she demanded, shoving him.
Her body heated up with embarrassment and rage. Kaia turned away to shield her face.
“You told me not to!” he snapped. “You told me not to tell Rasmus, and you told me not to tell you. So I didn’t!”
She raised her face from her hands. That’s right. But why? Her memories of the earlier nights came back to her like visions, but she couldn’t remember her thinking, her reasoning.
Kaia looked at him.
“I don’t remember… how it happened.”
She didn’t jump as he swooped her up by the arms. He would never touch her in the day, but now it felt so normal. Maverik looked her in the eyes, sympathetic, “You never knew. On the night you told me, you said—”
“I’ve been cursed, but I have no idea when it happened.”
“And you asked me to help you. Yeah.”
In the beginning, she’d wake in the middle of the night, her lost memories all coming back to her, and it just seemed like any old, faulty mind. As she suddenly was reminded of something she had completely forgotten about doing, she chalked it up to being tired. It took a long time for her to realize something was wrong. And, whether it be due to the curse or the time past or the secrecy of whomever had casted it, she had no idea where it could have come from or even when it started.
She wrapped her arms around him, fear suddenly sinking in her chest. Maverik held her tight. But then she remembered when she found out, the terror of the realization. Being scared for the first few nights. She didn’t tell Rasmus… why didn’t she tell Rasmus? That wasn’t like her.
Kaia stared skeptically over Maverik’s shoulder, her toes aching from being on their tips. She rocked back and looked at him.
Maverik and she had been looking through books, searching spells and curses to figure it out. Night after night they went through the scrolls he’d brought with him, gone up to the monk’s library on top of a mountain peak in the middle of the wilderness. At first, Maverik had come to Rasmus and Kaia with an honest proposition. But he seemed excited at the prospect of her new curse—having always said she was going to encounter some witch who wouldn’t tolerate her lip—and so, for a time, he just focused on helping her get out of it.
“Why are we sleeping together?” she said suspiciously.
She knew from her part. There was a growing heat in her core that explained it to her without even needing the memories of him kissing her. But it was so different than what she felt in the day, what she felt before the curse had come down, that she knew something was missing. Something on his side.
He tilted his head, annoyed, but not surprised. “You tell me. Give it an hour…”
“I mean, it’s because of the curse, right? What is your game?”
Now he jumped.
She’d never been that forthright with him before, she realized. She thought.
“Am I always this pissy?” she muttered.
“No,” he snapped. “You’re not.”
“I’m usually curious,” she agreed, realizing.
“You are usually less disturbed,” he said.
His voice was low, expression tense, angry. Kaia stared up at him, her moods conflicting. Feelings inside her, differing knowledge from the days and nights mixing, she couldn’t understand how she felt.
But his face softened as he faced the setting sun. “You seem to be affected by your feelings earlier today. The more I try to get close to you, the more agitated you are when you find out. I suppose it’s disturbing to find out how much your opinions can differ so quickly.”
“But you kissed me…” she said, remembering that night as they stayed up, waiting for Rasmus to return from a particularly humorous chase of a goblin.
“Yes. And you shoved me away.”
“Right… But why?”
He shrugged. “I had been wanting to do it for some time, and I figured this curse was the perfect timing. Your disgust would only be remembered for part of the time, so it would only be awkward between us at night, when we spent most of our hours sleeping.”
Her face turned red at a contradictory vision of them entwined.
She watched him.
“I have to go.”
He huffed, impatient, but turned away. She walked through the glass doors, through his colorful room, back into the hall. Safe out there in the silence, she leaned up against the exit.
Kaia tried to smooth through her thoughts. She had a reason for everything—she always did, but her memories were so muddled. She always made her opinion and then forgot about the evidence, but now, as she had two trains of thought going simultaneously, she couldn’t remember why she had decided not to tell her brother, what she really felt about Maverik. She didn’t know which side to believe.
The daytime, the thought-stream that lasted long before whatever was happening to her started, told her Maverik was a cold man, a calculating and selfish one. Or at least, far too high and mighty to show his friendship to two vagabonds he hired out. Rasmus and Kaia believed him to be a con man at the best of times.
But at night, after he took his chance, she started to notice him. She asked more questions, sat closer.
One night, as they sought a runaway monk, they split up and Kaia fell. She landed in the bottom of a dug trap, unable to climb out. Maverik found her, his face bathed in shadows as he looked down at her helpless plea. Removing his long coat, he lowered it into the pit for her to grab onto. He ended up falling in as well.
Maverik claimed he exhausted himself too much to use his abilities to escape, but maybe after he rejuvenated his energies he could come up with some ideas. She didn’t entirely believe him. They talked for some time, his hand landing on her knee, then her thigh, then her shoulder, then her other shoulder, until he was pressing her tight against him. When he started to kiss her, she didn’t stop him.
Over the weeks her daytime self remained stagnant. He was distant, his behavior, if anything, more reserved, more suspicious. When she thought of him, she treated him like a puzzle rather than a human being, especially not a man. But in the night her resolve weakened. She sought him out. She was impatient for her brother to leave. Her insides ached to be near him. She felt fragile. Vulnerable. She wanted him to like her, and that desire felt so good. The fear hurt so bad. Could they be in love?
The question clawed through her chest. If so, what would it mean? Rasmus hated wizards. He didn’t trust Maverik. He always blamed the mage for breaking her arm, even though Maverik hadn’t been anywhere near when it happened. Even if Maverik did dare more than just a physical fling, even if it wasn’t some act of aggression, even if it wasn’t just a way to stop her loneliness—what would happen? Could she live here? Stop traveling? Where would her brother go?
Rasmus would leave, of course. He wouldn’t stay here. But Kaia could see his reaction already. He would not be happy. He might go as far as forbid her. This thing—whatever it was—could lead to estrangement. Even if it was just moving on with their lives. The best case scenario would be she would live happily ever after and just replace her brother.
Why did it matter? Why was she concerned with any of this? Maybe they would fall apart, these questions irrelevant. She was over reacting.
She touched her chest. No. She felt something. It scared her because, whatever this was, it was more than just filling her isolation with a willing participant. Maverik made her feel something.
It would have to happen sometime. Did she expect her and her brother to live forever alone, just to stay together? She didn’t want that. But she didn’t want to change now. She didn’t know enough now. She didn’t want to know.
She remembered. The last few weeks had been filled with joy and pain, she thought she would burst. Daytime was a reprieve. Ignorance was bliss.
If she told herself, if she knew, she would have to make a choice. Rasmus would not understand. Even if Maverik wasn’t Maverik, her brother would never want her to be aligned with someone who dealt so heavy in the dark arts.
And even if Maverik was a good choice for her—even if her heart wasn’t conflicting with her logic, even if she seriously thought for one moment she could be happy with him—it would mean choosing. Leave her brother, the life she had created, and start all over, taking a chance on happiness with a man she wasn’t sure she loved. And could she tell either of them that?
But now, right now, she could not decide. She was able to stay in limbo—To walk in there right now to kiss him or curse him, and not have to face anything in the morning.
Right now she could have it all.
But that was selfish. She was lying to her brother, toying with Maverik. If she went back in there, she’d have one moment of pleasure but be consumed with guilt by morning.
Guilt, however, that she would forget about as quickly as it came.
Kaia lifted up from the door and opened it.
All rights reserved. ©2014 Charley Daveler.