29 January 2015

Throwback: Thicker Than Water

 Ladomer's first experience with vampires instilled a deep hatred--an emotion he gladly uses to bring destruction to the beasts that can't be purged from his memory. Hunting alongside the compelling man who saved his village, Ladomer and Zor are ruthless in their quest to stop the growing threat. When a new call pulls them deep into Eastern Europe, Ladomer learns anew just how cruel vampires can be--and how much deeper love can go.
May 14, 2205 – Early Dusk

It wasn’t that Ladomer wasn’t aware the day was slipping away from him. The rules had been ingrained in his head from the time Ladomer was first allowed to set unaccompanied feet on to the grass: one did not go past the open meadows into the darker, cooler edges of forestry; one remained within calling distance; and one kept an eye to the sky. And the watching of the sun, it had been repeated more often than not, was the truest and most urgent rule of them all. For when the sun drooped low, when it began to spread over the bridge that marked the limits of what was known with what was not, one was to take one’s self home with haste. It was hard, though, so very hard for his little mind to not sit and stare in awe at the structure that magnified color as though it were water.

Ladomer had never been close enough to the bridge to touch it; not even close enough to imagine what it might be made of. Concrete, he’d heard the older men say, but it was a word Ladomer didn’t understand. It wasn’t the same material as the rough brick the village carpenters hewed from the red earth; he knew that without having to be told. Brick had no such tendency to return the color of the retreating sun’s rays back to it—no pink or orange, no purples. He liked to imagine it was made of glass, similar to the small square that hung above the washbasin and offered up his own image for review while he made the attempt to work his orange-red hair into the braids that would keep the uncooperative spirals out of his face. It was a hard task for fingers still clumsy with youth—harder still when too many minutes were spent narrowing blue eyes in order to scowl at the freckles that spattered his tanned skin.

The brilliance of the sunset was even more captivating than usual. The weather had warmed, releasing the hold of a too-long, too-cold spring. The crickets had begun to call and the toads had begun to sing, and as the birds and the animals had leapt joyously from their hiding places, so too did the sun seem to be flourishing in renewed spirit. He’d followed the call of the meadow, losing himself in the life that rippled through the grass, spending long hours crawling through and around, over and under. So although he was tired as he sat and watched the artistic display unfold, Ladomer felt good. Muscles had been stretched and energy expended, fantasies had been sparked inside his soul, and as the sun painted the sky, imagination wandered.

He thought of metal carriages that ran off of smoke. He dreamed of traveling with one—over that elusive, seemingly unending bridge—and he wondered about cities full of thousands, not mere dozens. He considered skies full of man-made lights and water that came out of spigots all by itself.

It was not his fault that he sat and mused. Ladomer would not have chosen to sit outside the main supply lodge and wait for his mother while she did her trade of the careful sewing and delicate knitting. Ladomer could have opted to follow father to the mill as he signed away his hours—labor in exchange for grain and flour. And yes, Ladomer could have chosen not to listen when the old men filled him with stories of amazing things that once had been and never would be again. But he was ten, and nothing held his attention stronger than the stories of more. More people, more food, more time, and more things; places where the world wasn’t a daily drudge of task and survival. They existed, had existed at least, and Ladomer’s heart ached to know them.

Times had changed, though. Somehow, somewhere, in ways that Ladomer’s still developing mind didn’t understand, they who are not named began to stop hiding. It was no longer safe to live in groups of thousands, where no one knew another’s name or responded to a call for help. That was the beginning of the end, or so GoodMother May told the classroom during their first-of lessons. When the people became afraid to leave their homes, when those that did leave left forever, that was when the automatic everythings began to die. No more power came from the holes in the walls and no more smoke-making water ran for the metal carriages. Family unit by family unit, one after the next, the cities were abandoned for green places where food could be harvested from the ground and neighbors could be trusted. The concrete began to crumble. The earth began to reclaim itself. And amongst those empty cities, they who are not named placed their flags while the normal retreated.

The rebirth of mankind, GoodReverend Hugh told the congregation at Sunday assembly—the beasts brought about the rebirth of man. But try as he might, Ladomer couldn’t force himself to believe it. Generations had come and gone, old ways lost and new ones encouraged, but still the fire of knowing burned in his heart. Because it was out there, waiting for him, beyond the bridges and through the forests, past every limit he’d ever been given: knowledge. Books, a traveler had once told them, the entire village gathered round a fire to listen, books by the thousands; their pages turning to dust as paper and writing was eaten by bugs and weathered by time. Hulks of metal, the man had said, gesturing, that had folded into themselves like a man crumpling after a belly hit. Skylines with lodgings hundreds of heads high, as far as the eye could see, their bellies full of decaying benches and beds and strange machinery.

There were a few who walked the ground still: seeking, learning, exploring. A body was safe as long as the sun was still high and its far-reaching rays were able to stay with them. It was in the dark that fear was the promise as opposed to the threat. Not there, though, Ladomer assured himself as his gaze wandered the length of the bridge yet again. No, nestled in their little community, where nothing ever happened, and only the luckiest of travelers ever happened on, they were completely, mind-numbingly safe. In his ten years of existence Ladomer could only recall one person ever leaving and one couple ever joining them, and that thought was stifling. Ten years had been long enough for Ladomer to realize that he didn’t want to die there, in the sunny streets of that tiny village, singing the song of union with—GoodGod forbid—one of the few of his age group.

He would be the one, he told himself in moments of quiet contemplation. One day he would be the one to walk away with a pack tucked under his arm and his chin up high. He would walk all the way to that bridge, and he would touch it so he could know it. Then he would climb it, and he would find out what was on the other side, even if all he found was horror and destruction. Because then, if nothing else, he would know.

It was a firefly that caught Ladomer’s eye; at least, he assumed it was. The thought set his heart beating rapidly in his chest—fireflies did not fly when the sun was high—and he quickly searched the sky above him. The sun no longer sat on the bridge like a pigeon in a nest. It had dropped, bobbing below it like an apple waiting to be plucked. Pink had given way to orange, blue to purple. Ladomer stood, his feet scrambling and his tension growing. As safe as he believed his village was, it was hard to fight back fear long-planted and constantly-tuned. There was still time, though. The sun was still up, even if it was fading. If he ran, he would be fine. A wallop was in his future for losing track of time and place, that he was sure of, but nothing more sinister than that. If he ran. If he ran then and there. And didn’t stop.

He pushed back a sliding braid, blew escaped curls off his forehead, and set his footfall, but the flash of light caught him again. Curiosity won. He glanced to his right to search out the insect that was surely twice the size of most, and released his breath in a long, low exclamation. No firefly burned that brightly, nor did it dance in place as that one did. Tales of ridiculous speculation rushed to the forefront of his mind, fairies and angels and such things that GoodReverend Hugh would frown on, and even as Ladomer bit his lip in recollection of curfew, his feet drew him closer. The light shone as bright as a star in a moonlit sky and spun like a falling oak seed caught in the wind. Yellow and white and blue, the likes of which he’d never seen before, so very brilliant and so very interesting, and it led him from the meadow towards the tree line as though it called him by name.

Ladomer was startled into silence by the first “Hello.” A male voice, Ladomer was mostly sure, but it was low and quiet, and the man spoke as though he held a sweet in his mouth and was afraid to lose it. The lilt was unknown, the tone almost amused, and Ladomer found himself strangely taken with it. “Pretty, isn’t it?”

The man stood tucked into the shadows of the trees, and though every instinct in Ladomer’s body told him to stay back, Ladomer stepped closer. “See how it catches the light, yes? Among the dark that grows around us? Amazing thing, this; that she manages to find what is hidden and make magic from it.”

Ladomer lifted his eyes from the mesmerizing sparkly bit and searched out the man’s face. It was no easy task under the wide brim of a hat and long bangs below it, but a slow smile grew with Ladomer’s attention. The man did not bare his teeth in the manner Ladomer was accustomed to, nor could Ladomer say that the smile itself seemed all that friendly. Still, it was … interesting. He made odd, unfamiliar butterflies rise in Ladomer’s stomach.

“Do you speak?” the man asked, lifting a hand in time with the words, beckoning Ladomer closer. “Would you like to see the crystal, little one? Would you like to hold it? Perhaps you might even like to see if you, too, can make it dance?”
Henley was born with a full-blown passion for run-on sentences, a zealous indulgence in all words descriptive, and the endearing tendency to overuse punctuation. Since the early years Henley has been an enthusiastic writer, from the first few I-love-my-dog stories to the current leap into erotica.

A self-professed Google genius, Henley lives for the hours spent digging through the Internet for ‘research purposes’ which, more often than not, lead seven thousand miles away from first intentions but bring Henley to new discoveries and ideas that, once seeded, tend to flourish.

Henley has been proudly working with LT3 since 2012, and has been writing like mad ever since—an indentured servant to the belief that romance and true love can mend the most broken soul. Even when presented in prose.

Comments, kudos and signature card requests are happily received at afhenley.com.


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