A reminder that "A Wild Hunt, Part One", "A Wild Hunt, Part Two", and "A Wild Hunt, Part Three" are also available. I'm hoping to have the exciting conclusion to the story for you on Saturday, but this week has filled up fast! Tune in on Halloween and see if I make it!
A Wild Hunt, Part Four
by Mercy Loomis
Ariane carried Kiran into the living room and set him down on the sofa. "Dave, this is Kiran. Kiran, my roommate Dave."
Dave turned his computer chair around, but didn't get up. His mahogany brown eyes narrowed as his gaze swept from Kiran's muddy sneakers to his damp tousled hair. "Well, you do know how to pick the lookers," he said, but there was concern and puzzlement in his tone.
Kiran moaned and Ariane looked down at him. He was pale under that lovely dark skin, and sweat had broken out on his forehead. "Oh, God. It's getting worse," he gasped.
"What is?" Ariane asked, but Kiran just shook his head.
Behind her, she heard Dave rise to his feet. A gentle touch on her shoulder made Ariane step back. Dave moved up next to the couch, his form blurring in her sight as his soul leaned out of his body and he passed his hands gently over Kiran.
Kiran didn't seem to notice any change in Dave's appearance, but then, few humans would have. Then again, few humans liked to spend much time looking at Dave. Ariane was used to him, but most others found him obscurely off-putting; something to do with the remoteness of his gaze, or maybe the slightly grayish tinge to his ebony complexion.
"What are you doing?" Kiran asked.
Dave's eyes were half shut, the astral specter of his hands getting lower and lower until they finally touched Kiran's body, dipping just under the skin. Kiran noticed that, all right, jerking like he'd been touched with a live wire.
"You are missing something," Dave murmured, his words echoing faintly. His hands settled on Kiran's head, while Kiran's back arched and his mouth gaped like a fish's. After a few seconds Dave moved again, his hands tracing a line upward. Kiran's posture didn't change. "This is not good."
Dave turned and walked back to his chair, his soul settling back to its usual place. Kiran collapsed back against the cushions like a puppet whose strings were just cut. With great heaving breaths he curled up on his side, eyes squeezed tight shut.
"Dave, what is it?" Ariane had never seen him look so grim. "What's wrong with him?"
He shook his head, his gaze even more distant than usual. "Ari, where did you find him? I thought you were running an errand for G—"
She cut him off. No need for Kiran to hear that name; at least, not yet. "I was. Kiran was there, and there was some kind of ritual. A mage, Gloria, she pushed a ley line through him, and I think she had started to try to steal whatever powers she woke up when I interrupted her."
Dave looked up at her, startled. "How much do you think he—"
"Stop talking about me like I'm not here!"
Dave and Ariane both turned to look at Kiran. He'd lifted his head, his glassy eyes bright with fierce and fevered defiance. He struggled to raise himself up on one elbow and Ariane hurried over to help, propping him up with some pillows.
"Is that better?" she asked, starting to step back.
Kiran grabbed her wrist. His skin kept shifting between cool and hot, but his grip was almost painfully hard. His eyes locked onto hers and held her, and she fleetingly wondered if this was how Gabriel's prey felt. That look demanded her full attention, determined and desperate, and made her breath catch in her throat.
"What are you," Kiran growled through clenched teeth, "and what is he, and what the hell is happening to me?" A note of pleading entered his voice, and a hint of fear showed in the line of his brows. "Talk to me."
She swallowed, and gave him a shaky smile. "Well, I'm Ariane Conant, and I'm a skinshifter, and he's Dave Larue, and he's a zombie, and you're Kiran Eckhart, and you're apparently a human psychic."
Kiran looked from her to Dave and back, but only said, "Go on."
He still hadn't let her go. Ariane sighed. Men. She knelt next to the couch, hoping to avoid a crick in her neck from looking down at him. "Honestly, I don't know entirely what's going on. What were you expecting to be doing on Picnic Point?"
Kiran's lips thinned, and he closed his eyes. "She said she could awaken my psychic powers. She said she knew the minute she saw me that I had a lot of potential, and she could help me unlock it, learn to use it." He shuddered, his hand tightening on her wrist. "She didn't say that it would hurt."
Dave snorted. "There is a price for all things. Ari, you said she shoved a ley line through him?"
Ariane briefly described what she had seen. "Kiran, what was it that you gave her?"
"Some hair and nail clippings and three drops of blood wrapped up in a little piece of my pillowcase."
"You what?" Ariane cried in dismay. Dave only groaned and muttered something about fools. "Kiran, you gave her total magical power over you by doing that. Basically, as long as she possesses that talisman, she can do whatever she wants to you."
"No wonder the attack is getting through the wards," Dave said, starting to pace. He spoke quietly, thinking out loud. "It's not quite the same…still, I don't think it will be possible to sever the connection…except…excuse me a moment." He turned and hurried out of the room. Ariane heard him run up the stairs to his bedroom.
"Where's he going?" Kiran asked.
"Probably to consult the loa, his spirit guides," Ariane replied, shivering a little. "They kind of creep me out."
"He's really a zombie?" He sounded doubtful.
"Yes. He got his soul back, but the connection's been a little loose ever since, apparently. I don't know anyone else that can partially step outside himself at will like that—usually it's all or nothing. But he knows a lot about certain kinds of magic."
"What about you?"
Ariane shook her head. "I don't do magic, and I try to avoid it as much as possible. Although, Dave's wards are kind of nice."
Kiran frowned, his eyes searching her face. "But you changed shape."
He's got such beautiful eyes. "That's not magic. I'm a skinshifter. That's what we do."
He gave her a smile that was part admiring, part self-deprecating. "It sounds like magic to me."
Ariane was very suddenly aware of just how close they were, with her kneeling next to the couch, and him all propped up on the pillows. Mortified to feel her cheeks heating, she glanced down. "You seem to be doing a little better."
"A little. It's not so strong when I'm touching you."
Her gaze snapped back to his. "Really?"
He nodded, but there was something in his expression that made her think that wasn't the only reason he was holding on to her. "In, uh, in the Underground it wasn't too bad at all, and when we were outside the house it was worse even with you touching me. The wards messed me up, but the other wasn't as bad, until you set me down." He shuddered. "Even with the wards, it's worst when you aren't touching me."
"Oh. Well, then, I'll just stay right here." She knew she sounded breathy, but she couldn't help it.
"Thanks." He let go of her wrist, lacing his fingers through hers instead. His hands were bigger than hers, but not uncomfortably so. His eyes traced paths across their joined hands, and Ariane swore she could feel the warmth of his gaze moving across her skin. "I didn't know what it would mean, giving Gloria what she asked," he whispered.
She gave him a comforting squeeze. "I know that." Not that it makes a difference.
Kiran swallowed hard. "I'm scared, Ariane. I feel like I fell in a river and I don't know how to swim."
Ariane reached out with her free hand and tipped his chin up until he met her gaze. The heat she'd imagined feeling on her skin seared into her, but she tried to push it aside. "I'll help you as much as I can, Kiran," she told him softly, and then, to break that scorching electricity she added, half-laughing, "And call me Ari, everyone does."
Kiran's expression shifted, the worry fading, the fear morphing into something sharper, more confident, as if he had found the riverbank and regained firm footing.
"Ariane," he said just as softly but with firm assurance, and she shivered at hearing her name spoken with such intensity. A lump of longing rose in her throat, making it hard to breathe. There was a roaring in her ears, an inferno of soundless emotion that made the air around them almost shimmer with the heat of it.
Kiran cupped her cheek with one hand, his thumb tracing lines of fire over her lips, before drawing her to him. Ariane let her eyes slip closed, and kissed him.
Read "A Wild Hunt, Part Five"