- Ironwood Part 1: Kai Fae
- Ironwood Part 2: An Oracle
- Ironwood Part 3: Nova Fae
- Ironwood Part 4: A Stranger
Ironwood Part 1: Kai Fae
By Callie Bussell
YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN
Prondijune the 17th
Kai Fae had never been to Ironwood before, and as he looked around at the sunny, timbered town, he reckoned he liked his home in Aridean much better. He stared through the slatted streets down at the calm, sapphire waters of Lake Ash and wished Janusz would hurry with his meeting. This was supposed to be a simple drop to D’Po, Emissary of Ironwood, and they would be on their bikes back home. Instead, he was stuck waiting outside Rooni’s Cathedral, looking down into the lake, wishing he did not feel so seasick.
The town was made from the wood of the Meli Trees of Centrus. Stronger than most metals, Meli Trees made for some of the sturdiest building materials in Fal’Rath; flame-retardant and durable, the town of Ironwood had stood the tests of time due to the incredibly hardy construction that earned it its name…
Or at least that’s what Kai thought he remembered from his teachings at the Temple of Learning. He stared up at the bridge above him, taking note of the massive pillars and ties that suspended this mighty town to it. Kai wondered what it might be like to be wealthy enough to ride the Matriach’s Monorail, which passed over the city and circled throughout all of Fal’Rath. Living next to the monorail track in Aridean allowed him plenty of time to fantasize about boarding the liaison of Fal’Rath, but being in this brand new environment, built solely for the purpose of maintaining this very bridge, he wished again for just a little more money.
Kai haphazardly kicked his bike, annoyed. He wanted to be back in time to walk Nova home from school. He leaned over the railing that marked the border of the town and stared down into the crystal blue water. Catching his own reflection in the stillness of the lake, he grinned. Kai always liked his appearance, and knew the effect he had around his classmates, especially the females. Nova always told him his eyes were sweeter than the cowco bars he would bring her from his runs to So Fal’Kor, and that if he wasn’t careful, the girls at school would try to eat him like one. He scrunched his face at his image, baring his teeth and growling. He sighed. Gazing into the pool, he couldn’t help but be reminded of Nova’s eyes. His agitation subsided for a moment as he remembered the way they lit up last night while he made love to her. His mind wandered then, to all of the little sounds she made while they tried to keep quiet, and the ways she made him feel invincible. Kai loved Nova with every bit of himself, and being kept from her was one of his greatest frustrations. He turned and kicked his bike once more, knocking it to the ground. From behind him, a voice, “Alright, now, duke. What did that bike ever do to you?” Kai spun around to face his co-deliverer and best friend, Janusz. “Eden damnit, Janusz, what took you so long? We were supposed to be on the road over an hour ago! I’m really starting to get the lake sickness Shendra warned us about.” Kai said, exasperated, mounting his bike. Janusz laughed at him. “Yeah? The lake sickness? Blood is coming from your eyes and you’re vomiting profusely?” “Just about.” Kai sighed dramatically. “Well, then we better get you to a healer stat. No chance you’ll make it to Aridean’s Temple of Learning by the time classes are through.” Janusz side-eyed Kai, and grinned. “Alright, now I wouldn’t go that far.” Kai said, and returned his grin. Janusz climbed on top of his bike, laughing and shaking his head. “I do have to make one more stop, Kai. I’m sorry, I promised Shendra I’d bring her some ironwood from the market.” Janusz stated. Kai snorted, “Yeah I bet you’ll bring her back some ironwood.” Janusz smirked, and shoved Kai, knocking him off balance and causing him to stumble on his bike, “Come on, you duke. Maybe you can find something for Nova. Make up for being late to get her from school.” “Alright, but let’s hurry. Please?” Kai huffed, standing on his pedals and taking off towards the market. Janusz laughed, rolling his eyes, “Yeah, after you, First Guardian of Eden, K’Thal.” He followed after Kai. ~~~~~~~~ Unknown to both Kai and Janusz, a silhouette of a man stood in the alley next to the cathedral watching them leave. It leaned against the building, jotting down something in a notebook. It straightened up and emerged from the shadow, revealing a thin man wearing a hood, his face completely obscured in the darkness of the veil. He pocketed his notebook and followed after them.
Ironwood Part 2: An Oracle
By Callie Bussell Artwork by Toni Davis YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN Prondijune the 17th Upon approaching Ironwood’s market, the first thing Kai noticed was how very small it was. He had been to Qoris and seen the vast arrays of people and wares they sold; he had been to Distant Vengeance to enjoy their coastal foods and ocean made trinkets. Even Aridean had an array of goods to choose from, but Ironwood’s market was miniscule in comparison. Stretching only about a block, he noticed one stand selling, “FISH, FRESH FROM THE ASH”, another advertising “PRICELESS ASH PEARLS”, and yet another, which appeared to be receiving the most traffic, read, “INDESTRUCTIBLE IRONWOOD”. “That’s the one.” Janusz declared, and dismounted his bike. He began walking towards the line. “Are you coming with me?” “Nah,” Kai replied, scanning the rest of the stands and stepping down from his bike, “I think I’ll take a look around.”. “Ok, just don’t go too far. I should be quick.” Kai chortled, “Ha, ok. I’ll try not to get lost in this great expanse.” At this moment, the hooded man strolled into the Ironwood Market. He cast his gaze around the vendor tables, and spotted Kai. Keeping his distance, he followed him. Kai headed straight for the stand marked, “PRICELESS ASH PEARLS” with the intention of snagging one for Nova, even if it really was priceless. He gently rested his bike against the nearest building, and approached the table, which stood at the opening of a shadowed alcove. Along with gorgeous painted pearls, the table was littered with an assortment of other odds and ends: a set of white, cotton gloves, a golden spyglass with the words “darkness fills the night” etched into its body, a set of pencils, and a pair of forest green, leather bracers, with sketched characters Kai had never seen. He was instantly drawn to the final item, and he gingerly lifted one. It was remarkable how familiar the armor felt in his hands, as if they had once belonged to him. He threw it lightly into the air, it’s leather ties flowing behind. He caught it and studied the design. Starting at the bottom, a roaring flame gave way to a voluminous plume of smoke, which shifted into a tumultuous wave, and below it all, painted figures Kai did not recognize, but knew. He had to have them. Plus, he thought, there’s two! I’ll wear one, and Nova can have the other! He snapped his head up, into the eyes of the vendor, a sallow-faced man who gave Kai the impression that he had just bitten into a limeon. “How much for these?” he asked, gesturing to the arm bracers, in what he felt was his politest manner. The man’s lip turned up into a snarl as he stared at Kai. “Is that an answer?” Kai asked. The man’s brows knit harder on his forehead, and Kai couldn’t be sure that he did not hear an actual growl escape him. “Ok, well, thank you for your time.” He smirked. “I’ll just be off then.” Without breaking eye contact, Kai stepped backward, bracer still in hand, as if to leave without paying. The man actually snarled and began advancing on him. “Harmond!” a sharp voice erupted from the darkness of the alcove, causing the man to stop dead in his tracks. “What did that boy do?” From the shroud of the building, emerged a woman so beautiful, Kai felt ashamed to look at her. She was slight with a flowing mane of ginger hair. Dressed in a brilliant green flowing robe, golden hooped jewelry adorned her ears, her wrists, and her ankles, and the dark boots laced on her feet were tattered and worn. It was her eyes, the color of ice, but warmer than summer, that struck Kai the hardest. She walked with the stature of a queen. Her voice, which flowed in an accent Kai had never heard before, commanded like one, too. “Well, answer me, Harmond. What did that boy do except try to feed you today?” The man, Harmond, jerked his head to look at her, and cast his eyes shamefully downward. He grumbled something under his breath. “What was that?” The woman asked sternly, hands on her hips, and head cocked to the side. Harmond grumbled a little louder, but it was still indiscernible to Kai, who at that moment decided to chuckle. There was something inconsistently queer to him to see this unwaveringly sour man controlled by such a tiny beauty. Harmond slowly twisted his neck to stare back at Kai, piercing him with his glare; the fire in his eyes caused Kai to tense up in a moment of real fear, but he did not look away. He squared his shoulders to Harmond, and glared back. After a silent, one-second standoff, Harmond turned away, hissing quietly to himself and retreating into the shadow behind the table. “Please do not mind him, child.” She clucked, “He does not like strange men.” When she turned her attention to Kai, he felt his stomach churn. He had never seen a woman so physically stunning. It made him nervous, and his eyes widened slightly. Nova was typically the only thing that ever caused him to falter. Stuttering, Kai replied, “S-strange men?” Ignoring his question and crossing to the market table, she spoke, “So, the Ocean of Fire calls to you?” She lifted the bracer that Kai had left on the table. “I suppose.” He blushed without knowing why. She beckoned him closer, subtly twitching the middle finger on her right hand while holding the bracer in her left. Kai obeyed, stumbling over his feet. She laughed at him softly, as he reached the edge of the table. “Are you familiar with the Prophecy of the Perfect Host?” Kai shook his head. “Not many are. It can be found in the forty third chapter of the Fal’Kor.” This made Kai pause for a moment. He huffed, “There’s only forty-two chapters of the Fal’Kor.” The woman tisked,“There were originally forty-three chapters, the last being written by Yggdrasil himself. After he had forsaken Eden, it was eradicated. Or so Eden thought.” Kai snorted. His image of her shattered, and he did not see her beauty, but only her obvious ignorance. He felt a slight twinge of embarrassment at himself, thinking she was beautiful. Nova’s intellect far surpassed this stranger’s, and he mentally kicked himself for ever letting her shake him. Crossing his arms and leaning back on his heels, he asked, “How could you know that? The Fal’Kor was written before Eden created us.” “I know everything, Kai Fae.” Kai breathed out for a moment, then laughed awkwardly. She grinned at him, and he sneered. Glancing left and right, he let out a snicker, “Ok, Janusz! Funny.” The woman grinned, “Here,” she said holding out the arm bracer for Kai. With an air of arrogance, Kai reached for the trinket. She clasped Kai’s hand, holding it fast. Alarmed, he tried to pull away, but her grasp was iron. The woman gasped, gripping his hand tighter; her eyes rolled back as she began to seize. Throwing her head, she growled in a low, garbled voice, a sound unlike anything Kai had ever heard. Horrified, he tried to yank his hand away, but her grip only grew tighter. She pulled him closer, and growled in his ear, “The Ocean of Fire will raze Eden’s works to the very dirt she claims to have created. He will be swift, he will be cunning, and he will be deceptive. He will invite you in with a smile as clean and enticing as Eden’s love. Many will underestimate his ferocity, but to do so means certain death. He will come for Eden, he will come for her followers, and he will seek to decimate those that follow her Light.” In an instant, the woman inhaled desperately, and released Kai. Her eyes snapped back into their correct place, as her chest heaved for air. She locked eyes with Kai, a look that mirrored his own horrified expression. Tears dripped from her face, “Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova. You do not survive without her.” Kai leaped backwards, truly and deeply disturbed. He began to retreat slowly toward his bike. The woman remained standing, slowing her breathing, and steadying her hands. She touched her lips softly, and smiled. “You will know him.” She chuckled, then winced. Nearly frozen, Kai could not do much else, but nod. She embraced him tightly, but Kai remained rigid with fear. “Goodbye, Kai Fae.” she spoke from deep within her throat. “I expect we’ll meet again someday.” She released him from the hug, but left an arm around his shoulder and walked him in silence to his bike. Kai found himself shaking, panic searing through his cells. He clambered onto his vehicle with the grace of a cooked noodle. His heart pounded as he replayed the last moments in his head. This woman was clearly owned by Yggdrasil; he wanted nothing more than to put as much distance between her and him. “Bye!” he shouted awkwardly, as he peddled away from her as fast as his legs would work. Heart pounding, head throbbing, and legs wobbling, he allowed his adrenaline to carry him. He zoomed through the market, avoiding the few people that stood in his way, passing by the signs that advertised “FRESH FISH FROM THE ASH” and “INDESTRUCTIBLE IRONWOOD”, flying by a bewildered Janusz who was at that moment placing Shendra’s Ironwood into the the basket of his bicycle. “Kai!” Janusz’s bark ripped him back into the world, “Kai, what the hell?” Rattled, Kai craned his neck towards the sound of Janusz’s voice. He momentarily lost his balance as his bike started to sway. Snapping his head forward once again in an effort to straighten out, he found himself seconds away from crashing into a crossing hover-truck. He slammed on his brakes, jerking his handlebars hard, but to no avail. His wheels skid under him, and he smashed into the side of the vehicle. Kai’s bike buckled underneath him, as he was thrown to the ground, hitting his head hard, his ride falling heavily on him. He yelped as he heard the crunch of his leg shattering underneath him. “KAI!” Janusz screamed, throwing his own cycle to the ground, dropping the Ironwood, and sprinting to him. “Kai! Somebody get help!” Janusz fell to his knees next to him, “Are you okay?” He wiped a bead of blood from Kai’s forehead. Kai hissed through gritted teeth. His mind clouded with pain and his vision blurred; his only thought was “Protect her, Kai Fae. Protect Nova. You do not survive without her.” He could see Janusz looking down on him, but his sight flickered as the agony overcame him. His head began to swim and nausea overcame him; he snapped his eyes shut. He clutched at Janusz, “P-protect Nova.” When he opened his eyes again though, it was not Janusz he saw, but a man with his face obscured from a hood reaching towards his face. He opened his mouth to scream, but he slipped away into darkness. ~~~~~~~
Ironwood Part 3: Nova Fae
By Callie Bussell YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN Prondijune the 20th In the darkness, Nova Fae kneeled by a cheap, tattered mattress reading to Kai by the light of a small halo-lamp from a pocket-sized book, her Fal’Kor. “Oh my, Eden,” she uttered, “Beautiful as the stars above us. The love I bear for you holds no boundaries, knows no end, carries no weight. It is the moon on my darkest nights, the calm in every storm, and the power in my soul. To know you, to hold your light, is to know pure joy, pure love, and I am content.” She kissed his cheek, “I miss you, my Kai.” She stared at him a moment, taking in the face that she loved so much. She ran a finger down his sharp jaw bone, petting the short hairs that grew there, and traced upwards caressing his velvet lips. She leaned in, kissed them, and set her Fal’Kor on the floor; she stretched herself out on the mattress next to him. Laying her head on his chest, she listened to the steady thump of his heart. She had done this many times since the Ironwood Medis brought him back three days ago. It’s very likely, the Ironwood Medis explained, that he will make a full recovery if treated properly, but the Fae family was unable to afford the treatment. That meant it was Nova’s sacred duty to tend to him, and as she had just begun her new job as assistant to the prestigious Doctor Shilling at the Aridean Bureau of Genetics, she felt confident she could heal him. In this moment though, she felt lost. Three days was the longest she had gone without talking to Kai since she was first brought to his family eight years ago, and she longed for even a whisper from him. Her mind raced with all of the ways she could lose him, all of the ways she could fail in healing him. She let his heartbeat soothe her. As long as it still pulsed, he lived. As long as he still lived, there was light in life. She felt the Matriarch’s Monorail before she heard it. The floor under her vibrated as it shook the dilapidated structure she called home. As the train sped closer, the rumbling grew louder, and as it roared outside of her window, it’s horn blaring to clear the track, Nova’s anxiety strengthened. Please don’t wake Kai, she wished, the thought circling in her brain. But if it did wake him, I could hear his laugh again, see him smirk. Shame drowned her as she wrestled with what she wanted and what Kai needed. The monorail passed, the reverberations subsided, and quiet returned to Kai’s bedroom. Nova wasn’t sure how long she lay there, caught in a guilt-ridden thought loop, listening to the soft patter of an Aridean rain that had begun outside. When she heard a small sound escape Kai’s throat, she jolted upright. “Kai?” she whispered, smiling and rubbing his cheek with her thumb. His eyes fluttered open, and when he saw her, he smiled. Tears of relief welled in Nova’s eyes. She sniffed, “Hi.” “Hi, Nov.” He reached a hand up to touch the tear that slid down her face. “Why are you crying?” She pressed her forehead to his and smiled, “I missed you.” With a grunt, Kai tried to sit up, but he gasped harshly as a wave of pain shot through his leg. “No, no, no.” Nova said, rising, “You nearly cracked your leg in two. Lie still.” She crossed to the small dresser across the room, and poured a glass of water. Disregarding her, Kai struggled his way upright. Nova turned back, making a small tsk sound at his defiance and he simpered at her. She sighed, gingerly lifting him forward, and slipping behind him so that he rest his weight on her. Draping her arms around him, she placed the cup to his lips to help him drink. “Thank you.” Kai uttered, as he sipped on the water. He choked as his muscles remembered how to swallow, coughing violently. He fell limp in Nova’s arms. Panicked, Nova lightly shook him, whispering into his hair, “Hey, hey, you’re okay. You’re okay.” Kai grunted, “Dizzy.” “Yes. They said you hit your head pretty hard.” “Yeah, I guess I did. The hovertruck came out of nowhere.” “You remember what happened?” “Yes, mostly.” “Janusz said you were riding like a madman, like you were running away from something? What happened?” Kai shifted, turning his head to face her, “Some cheap vendor’s trick I fell for. I was browsing a table, and this woman showed up, spouting off something about a forty-third chapter in the Fal’Kor and-” Nova snickered. “Yeah, written by Yggdrasil. ” Kai grumbled. “Written by Yggdrasil? Was this woman a rejector?” “She knew my name and spouted off some madness in a terrifying voice. It really petrified me, Nov, so I jumped on my bike and tried to get as far away from her as possible. I turned to someone calling my name which was just enough time for me to not see the truck, and the last thing I remember is Janusz looking down on me.” Kai nuzzled his nose into Nova’s neck. “She must have been something to have shaken Kai Fae.” Nova teased, “Do you remember who this woman is? We can alert the city guard of a rejector and have her-” In an instant, Kai remembered the woman’s eyes, and her voice rang in his head, I expect we’ll meet again someday. “No, she’s just crazy, I think.” “Well her craziness almost got you killed.” She kissed him on the forehead, “How’s your head? Are you in pain? I managed some Sikara from Dr. Shilling’s office.” “I’m fine. I’m fine. I just need-” That’s when he saw it. Across the room sat a package, and when his eyes fell on it, he felt a wave of peace wash over him. “What is that?” Nova glanced over at the package, “Oh this? It came for you the day after the Ironwood Medis brought you back.” She wiggled out from underneath Kai, making sure to rearrange the pillow behind him to keep up upright, and retrieved the parcel. “Who’s it from?” Kai questioned, quietly excited. “There’s a card, but I didn’t open it. I wanted to wait for you. Shall I read it?” “Sure.” Kai smiled as Nova sat on the corner of the bed. Nova began to read. “The Perfect Host will be taken by an Ocean of Fire, the very same that will destroy many of Eden’s Creations. The Chosen cannot occur without the Ocean of Fire, and the Ocean of Fire cannot cleanse without the Chosen. Two halves of one whole, one cannot exist without the other. They shall remain forever intertwined as the day Eden first breathed life into them. One being, split in two. The Ocean of Fire, the Perfect’s only weakness. The Perfect, The Ocean of Fire’s one downfall. To separate them is to weaken both. To harm one is to harm the other. Distance and time cannot weaken their connection; pain or death of one will be felt by both. Chapter 43 of Yggdrasil” Nova paused. She looked up at Kai, then continued. “For you and your Nova. Do not lose them, do not lose her.” She lowered the letter and looked at Kai. She could not read his face, and that alarmed her more than the cryptic letter. There was a moment of silence as the two stared at one another. “Kai? What is this?” “Open it.” He spit out, “Open the package.” With unsteady hands, Nova tore open the dirty wrapping revealing two forest colored arm bracers with gold etchings. ~~~~~~~~~
Ironwood Part 4: A Stranger
By Callie Bussell YEAR 920 – AGE OF EDEN Prondijune the 20th Nova studied the drawings on the arm-bracers: water that caught fire which plumed to smoke, and two characters that she did not recognize. Kai inhaled sharply. “I knew it.” He whispered. “These are gorgeous. What are they?” “For us, apparently. Armor.” Kai reached out a hand, and Nova placed a bracer in it. She stood next to his bed, holding the other with her arms crossed. Kai continued, “This is what I was looking at when that women went rabid.” Nova’s mind began to reel, “So, she brought them to us? How did she know about me? Is she following us? Kai, I think we need to-” “No.” Kai said, his voice soft and wondering, “No, I think- I think these are ours, Nova.” He pushed his left fist into the leather, tightening the black straps. He wiggled his fingers, and held up his arm, admiring it. “Tie it for me?” Hesitantly, Nova took the ties in her hand and began tightening it further. She fastened a snug bow. She tucked the excess material into the bottom, and sighed. “This feels wrong. This woman almost killed you, and then sends you these? What are these drawings? Are they Yggdrasilian? The Ocean of Fire? Does this mean…” Nova felt her shoulders tighten as she grew silent for a moment. Then somberly she said, “Kai, is she suggesting that you’re the Perfect Host?” Kai grabbed her right hand and pulled her to the bed; without releasing her, he took the other bracer. He caressed her hand softly, then silently slid the bracer over it. Nova felt serenity consume her and she relaxed. Kai smiled, and tugged gently at the ties, mimicking her as he fit the armor in place. They looked at one another and smiled. Kai touched his left hand to her chin and pulled her in, kissing her sweetly. When they broke apart, Nova shrieked. Pain, searing and sharp, jolted down her leg as she convulsed once and fell to the floor. “Nova!” Kai’s heart exploded with adrenaline as he tried to get to her, but his leg left him immobile, watching her helplessly from the bed. He grew light headed from the exertion and sagged. Suddenly, his mind was screaming, anxiety whipping through him.Thoughts circling, unrelenting. Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova. Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova. Just as quickly as the pain had started, it dissipated, and Nova was left gasping. She looked up at Kai, then down to her new accessory. “What in the name of Eden are these things?” “What happened? Are you okay?” He shifted frantically, his movement thwarted by his physical disability. He could only think about getting to Nova, Protect her, Kai. Protect Nova. “Stay put!” Nova gasped, as she rose to her feet with trembling legs. She breathed heavily. “Pain. So much pain, it felt like my bones snapped, but-” She paused and shook her leg, wiggling her toes and rolling her ankle, “I’m fine. Nothing.” Kai felt helpless and childlike as his thoughts continued to race, “Come here? Please?” Nova went to him, falling into his arms. The two held each as relief washed over them both. Kai’s mind cleared like a storm passing, and he squeezed her. “I’m fine, love. I promise. I just- that was wild. That felt… evil.” “You sure you’re okay, Nov?” He breathed, grateful to be holding her. “Yes. Are you?” “I felt like all at once I couldn’t think anymore. I was so overwhelmed with fear for you, I couldn’t- I’ve never felt anything like that before. It was like a- a- blanket, covering my sanity.” Nova pulled back from him, “I’m safe, I think.” She paused, staring at the leather armor. Then, with finality, she spoke, “These were made by Yggdrasil.” She began to pull at the strings desperately to remove it. “Wait.” Kai placed his hand on hers and repeated, “Nova, I think these are ours.” Her trust in Kai abated her fear for a moment. She pondered the magic that passed from the arm bracers, listening to the rain dance against the window. When Nova finally looked up, she locked eyes with Kai. Her heart stopped. Every time their eyes met, it felt like the first time. Never had she ever seen anything so beautiful, so comforting. Home. In that moment, across her mind’s eye, she saw all of her favorite memories that she had spent with Kai. She remembered as a child, how he read to her, soothing her nightmares; she saw herself at age eleven being chased by Kai as he pelted her with Binger Berries, staining her dress and the walls of the kitchen. She had never laughed so hard until their mother and father came home, punishing Nova for the mess. She felt her passion sear through her as she remembered his confession of love to her at age fifteen, and the way he moved inside of her for the first time. Every moment since that first had been filled with fear- fear they would be caught, fear of her adoptive parents rage, and above all else, fear of losing Eden’s love. But each time (and especially this one) she looked into Kai’s eyes, nothing else mattered. The whole world could collapse around her and she would remain, transfixed by his amber eyes; the way he looked back at her, she knew he felt the same. A sly grin stretched across Kai’s lips that made Nova weak. In a low whisper, he began to speak, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds-” Before he could finish reciting the ancient poem that brought them together, Nova swiftly, but gently, silenced him with a passionate kiss, which he gratefully and eagerly returned. She clenched her fingers in his shaggy hair, and Kai winced. She retracted immediately, panicked. “I’m sorry! Are you okay? I didn’t-” Kai sat up, clutched at her waist, and lifted her onto him. He winced again as she straddled him, and a look of horror burst across her face. “Kai, please! I’m sorry! I don’t want to hurt-” He shushed her, placing a finger to her lips. “I love you.” “I love you too, but you should be healing, and I’m making things worse.” She frowned, covering her face in her hands. “You’ve made nothing worse.” He lifted his left hand to her cheek, and pulled her in again, locking her lips to his once more. Her heart exploded in her chest, pumping passion through her veins. She broke away from him, turning her attention to his neck, and gingerly trailed her mouth down it and across his bare chest. Kai inhaled sharply. “Is this okay?” she asked, her voice muffled as she spoke into his shoulder. “I need you.” he replied, his voice ragged and low. Nova met his eyes, “I need you.” she replied. They made love then. Tenderly, awkwardly, as Nova desperately avoided exacerbating Kai’s wounds. As the bleak, Aridean rain pattered against their window, Nova curled up against Kai, savoring the delicious exhaustion that rolled through her. Kai was already dozing next to her. She was not sure how long they rested that way before a strange thought passed over her mind. She stared down at her right arm, then glanced over at his left one. The two lie naked together, exposed and bare, except for the two forest-green arm bracers. How strange she thought it was that amidst their fervor, the armor remained in place. She rose then, dressing quickly. She was never able to indulge in her favorite part of the love she and Kai made, holding him as they drifted to sleep. They always ran the risk of Nanja or Thiok, Kai’s Mother and Father, inquiring at the door. She turned now, letting her gaze wash over the light in her life, kissing him one final time for the night. He made a small sound, and rolled over. Love welled in her chest, then regret as she turned, flicking off the halo-lamp. She crept down the darkened hallway of her home, and back to her own bed. ~~~~~~~~ Across the street from the Fae home, a man leaned against a lamp post, puffing on a hand-rolled cigarette. He watched as the light from Kai’s bedroom flipped off, and the furrow in his brow deepened. He flicked the bacino to the ground, watching as droplets of rain extinguished the tiny flame. He pulled a radio from his coat and spoke into it, his voice intense and serious, “She received them.”