by Katie Vieceli

He was taking off his bells when he heard the whimper. Hedge's gaze flickered to the cot where Nicholas was resting. The boy was a sad sight nowadays, wasted away, his thick blond hair now limp and wispy. He shook his head as he set the band of bells on the floor, careful not to let any of them ring. No reason to call any creatures here to the tent, with his master so snared in his imperfect host.

He frowned as he thought of his folly, his part in bringing the boy here. It was but a moment to cross the tent, and he looked down at him. Certainly, Nicholas would be dead if it weren't for the silver shard within him. It was a far cry from how he'd been when Hedge first met him: confident, even arrogant, throwing the Prince's name around and laughing at Hedge's bells. He'd been so certain that there was a scientific explanation for them, a explanation for the lightning that struck continuously at the site, for the blackouts that he constantly had, for every single little damn thing that happened. But then he'd never walked beyond the Ninth Gate and seen the spirits of the Dead rising into the sky.

Nicholas really needed a change of clothes, he reflected. Like most Anceltierran products, his clothing had begun to disintegrate once he had entered the Old Land. The formerly fine shirt and pants he had been wearing were in shreds, exposing pale, sun-starved skin riddled with deep purple bruises.

He looked back at the bandolier of bells which was pooled on floor, singling out the pouch that held Kibeth. He wondered if Nicholas was close enough to the river for the bell to work. If he could command the body, surely he could command the power within it. Then he, Hedge, lowly born necromancer, would possess the greatest force of the Old Kingdom. He allowed himself to toy with the thought for a second, then dismissed it. Orannis' rewards would be enough for him.

Speaking of...

He lifted one of Nicholas' hands, searching for the tiny scar that marked where the shard had entered his body. It smelled intensely of Free Magic, metallic white fire on the tip of his tongue when he went down on his knees to taste it.

"You're a lucky man, though I'm sure you wouldn't agree with me. Master," he added mockingly. He licked the scar again, swiping the blunt nail with his tongue before he bit down.

Nicholas moaned softly and turned over, opening weak blue eyes. "Hedge.."

"Shut up." He pushed at the other man's chest, rolling him over onto his back again. Rising to his feet, he got on the cot, straddling Nicholas' hips.

Nick closed his eyes when Hedge ran a hand over his chest, skating over the bruises. "Sam? " He sighed, hummed a little under his breath, and visibly relaxed. "You finally came." He let his hand rest on Hedge's. "I missed you."

Hedge smiled. It wasn't a nice smile, but then he wasn't a nice man. He'd had his suspicions about Nicholas and the Prince, despite Sayre's big talk about the 'debs' up in Corvere. With his other hand, he pressed down on the very edge of one of the bruises, watching the skin turn even whiter around the discoloration, then flush with blood as he lifted up.

"Mmm. That hurts, Sam." He turned his head to the side. "Your stupid Old Kingdom's made an invalid out of me. You should meet my guide, there's a odd one if I ever saw it. He's got those same damn bells that you have. A necro-whatsit."

The necromancer pressed down again, harder this time, and closer to the angry purple center of the bruise, digging his nail in a little bit. Nicholas' breath hitched and he tried to squirm away. "Don't," he protested weakly. "Don't do that, Sam. Hurts."

Placing his hand in the very center of Nicholas' chest, Hedge pressed down hard. Nick sobbed, taking in a great wheezing breath. He kept pressing down, ignoring the struggling beneath him, ignoring Nicholas' scrabbling hands until his body went limp and his eyes rolled back into his head. He laid his ear against Nicholas' chest and listened to his weakly beating heart. He was alive, but still and pliant, like the corpses Hedge had always been more comfortable with since he was very young.

He ran a brisk hand down Nicholas' side, mentally counting the ribs, and let his hand settle above the prominent hipbone. He lay like that for a while, his head rising and falling with Nicholas' breath, then bit down into the bruise nearest to him, sucking the skin into his mouth. He trailed a finger through the shiny path he had left behind, circling the bruise, dipping into the hollow between Nicholas' collarbones, and finally circling his Adam's apple. Perhaps, when this was all over, he'd bring this one back, ring Kibeth and Dyrim and Saraneth, but keep Belgaer, the bell that restored independent thought, silent.

It was an appealing thought. He sat up and ran a hand through his thinning hair, then. bent and briefly kissed Nicholas' mouth, running his tongue over the swollen gums. Nicholas tasted of lime and just a hint of smoke. Tendrils of it were beginning to emit from the boy's mouth. Hedge quickly stood and moved away from the cot. If his true Master were to come calling, it would not do to have him find Hedge molesting his host. He lifted the tent flap and looked out for a moment at the legions of ensorcelled Dead working on the site, then let it drop and waited for Orannis' command.


Silverlake: Authors / Mediums / Titles / Links / List / About / Plain Style / Fancy Style