Ok, so I didn't get the story done, but I did get enough for another installment. Sigh. Am about to head out to help do set up for my friends' wedding or I'd probably try and pound it out today. I'll get the rest to you next week!
A reminder that "A Wild Hunt, Part One", "A Wild Hunt, Part Two", "A Wild Hunt, Part Three", and "A Wild Hunt, Part Four" are also available.
A Wild Hunt, Part Five
by Mercy Loomis
Ariane's heart gave a hiccup as her lips met Kiran's. She'd been imaging this since the first day of class, but those dreams had not involved running for her life beforehand, much less doing it twice. What started out as a slow, cautious kiss quickly escalated, passion mixing with adrenaline and igniting a bonfire in Ariane's heart. She shuddered against him, overcome with desire, and Kiran only kissed her harder, pulling her to him like a drowning man clutches at a branch.
From upstairs came the thud of Dave's bedroom door, and the sound of his footsteps on the stairs. Ariane broke away with a gasp, her cheeks flaming so hard they felt sunburned. Kiran had that same glazed expression he'd had when Gloria grabbed his hair, like a man waking up from a stupor, cast adrift on a calm sea.
"It's like I thought," Dave announced as he strode into the room, pausing at the threshold and gazing at their joined hands. "Oh, excellent idea, Ari, that should help."
"Why? I mean, he said things were better when I was touching him…" She struggled to let go of the impulse to leap up and pin Kiran to the couch.
"Your aura is helping to shield him. It won't stop the attack, but it will slow it down. Skinshifters," he explained to Kiran, apparently interpreting Kiran's blank expression as confusion, "are bi-planar, partly in this plane and partly in another, and tend to warp certain magical energies…"
"What Dave is trying to say is that skinshifters are immune to having our thoughts messed with or controlled." For all of Dave's theories, she'd never had proof of "warping" or anything else beyond the fact that the vampires couldn't use their usual psychic tricks on her—an immunity she was grateful for every time she had to deal with them. Although Gabriel still managed to get her to do what he wanted nine times out of ten…"Anyway, maybe that's why you could understand me, because you were touching me."
Kiran shook his head. "No, I heard you before that, when you tripped and started swearing a blue streak."
Dave cocked his head to the side. "You understood Ari in a non-human form? On this plane?"
With an uncertain glance at Ariane, Kiran nodded.
Dave started pacing again. "You shouldn't have had that ability after the attack…but then, the gift of tongues is not a human gift…"
Ariane interrupted him before he could get too caught up in puzzling over whatever had his attention this time. "Dave, what was it you found out? What's happening to Kiran?"
"The mage, Gloria, she is stealing his power from him." Dave shook his head, bemused. "It's quite clever really, akin to how living zombies are made. Instead of stealing his ti bon ange, she is taking just a small piece of it, the part that lets him use his abilities."
"My T-bone what?" Kiran asked.
"Ti bon ange. Your soul," Ariane said before Dave could get into the explanation. Dave frowned, but after a brief internal struggle he shrugged and let her definition stand.
"But couldn't I have just taught her how to do whatever it is I do?" Kiran looked from Ariane to Dave and back while they shook their heads at him.
"You can't teach someone to be taller, and you can't teach them to be telepathic. Either you are born that way, or you're not. It's part of the confluence of body and soul—a disembodied person cannot use their psychic powers, even if they took over someone else's body."
Dave was starting to warm to his topic, so Ariane interrupted him again. "But because she has part of his body to attach it to, she can draw the psychic part of it to the talisman and bind it there."
"Yes." The zombie looked a bit disgruntled at her breaking his train of thought. "You stopped her before she could complete it, but her spell is still working, still stealing his powers. Eventually it will drain them totally."
"There must be a way to stop it," Kiran said desperately.
"There is, especially while it's still ongoing…" Ariane trailed off. Kiran's expression had suddenly changed, brows knitting in confusion, his gaze going distant like he was listening to something far, far away. He started to try to get to his feet, but Ariane held him down. "Kiran, what is it?"
"I have to go," he mumbled, staring past her toward the door. He began to struggle, but she was stronger than a healthy human, much less one as weakened as he was.
"She can't be summoning him," Ariane said doubtfully. "He's human."
Dave looked even grimmer than before. "I think she is. He must have some other blood in him, Ari, and the ritual woke it up. The gift of tongues is a fae gift, not a human one, and it doesn't appear to be impaired by the draining spell."
"And tonight of all nights, with the veil so thin..." She broke off as Kiran surged against her. He was getting stronger. "Well, this is one way to find her," Ariane muttered.
"Be careful," Dave told her, regret in his voice.
"I will." She knew he wished he could come with them, but the energies of November Eve wrecked havoc with his soul's connection to his body, and with all the people running around, their drunken boisterous energies adding to the already volatile mix, not to mention the mages and the non-humans that tended to be attracted to such things…well, it was the same reason Gabriel always left town.
Cautiously she eased up on Kiran, who scrambled to his feet. "We're going, we're going," she murmured as he tried to bolt for the door. "Calm down."
Now that he was able to move, a little sanity came back into his eyes. He walked like a man with a mission, but he gripped her hand tightly, pulling her along when she didn't follow fast enough. "I have to go," he whispered, despairing. "Please, Ariane, don't leave me?"
"I'm right here," she said. "I won't let her have you."
Kiran gave a tiny shudder as they passed through the wards again, but it didn't slow him. Ariane closed her eyes as they stepped outside. The air was vibrating with energy, the wind rattling the now-bare branches, the nearly full moon playing peekaboo with the high, thin cirrus clouds like a belly dancer peering through one of her veils. The night called to her, pulled at her, and somewhere to the south she could feel the wake of the Hunt's passing, a ripple in the ley lines that she itched to follow.
"Come on," Kiran snapped, tugging her after him.
"Where are we going?" Ariane asked, a little breathless from the rush.
His free hand rose, pointing. "She's still there. She never left."
Ariane frowned. Her apartment was smack in the middle of downtown, and with Freakfest in full swing there'd be no way to get a car through without going all the way around the lakes. With such a close call the last time she was leery of cutting through the Underground again, but Kiran was pulling her straight toward the pookha hole. She held back, refusing to think about opening the way. "I really don't think we should—"
The hole stretched wide before them. Ariane cursed, clutching Kiran's hand. "Don't! You don't what you're doing yet!" But Kiran ignored her, plunging into the tunnel, and she had no choice but to dart after him.
The darkness was total, and went on and on and on. Kiran's breath echoed off the walls, a harsh panting that grew as the minutes kept going by. "What's wrong?" he finally asked. "Why aren't we there yet?"
"Because you don't know where you're going. You're trying to cut straight over to Picnic Point, but you can't do that. You could wander in here forever trying. I need you to stop walking."
"I don't know if I can!" he said, his voice rising. "Whenever I think about stopping, it feels like I'm smothering, and like there are a thousand little hooks in my skin pulling me forward."
"Well, try, or we're going to be stuck here for a very long time."
Kiran paused, stumbled forward a few steps, paused again, stumbled some more, but eventually managed to halt, quivering like a frightened horse.
"Now let go of the path," Ariane said. "Clear your mind of any destination other than following me."
That took even longer, but the moment Ariane felt control shift—the airflow changing, the echoes coming back from new directions, a slight change in the grade of the stone under her feet—she started walking. Kiran came after her gratefully.
In less than a minute they emerged into the Underground, coming out of an old hollow tree into a dark, menacing forest. Sighing, Ariane pulled Kiran after her when he started to head off to their right. "Not that way," she scolded. "You can't trust your direction sense down here. Let me lead."
Kiran winced, but came along without protest. "This is awful. It's like…like being tortured, and they keep giving the thumbscrews another twist."
"That about sums it up. Why do you think demons are always so angry in stories? Getting summoned sucks." She paid little attention to what she was saying, more concerned with getting out of there. The branches above them creaked and clattered as the trees whispered to each other. Ariane had heard them hundreds of times before, but tonight they sounded nervous. "Just passing through," she called softly. "No need for alarm."
"I'm not scared," Kiran said, thinking she had spoken to him. "I like it here." He sounded surprised. "It feels…right. Homey. Not exactly familiar, but like it should be, you know?"
The trees around them murmured appreciatively, and Ariane let out a long breath. "Yeah, definitely fae blood in you somewhere. Once we get this spell off you, we need to have a nice long talk."
The trees around them shifted subtly, causing them both to blink hard. Just ahead of them was what looked like a fox's den. "Blessings on the forest!" Ariane cried in relief, pulling Kiran forward. Grateful as she was, you just never knew when the trees would decide to hinder instead of help, or switch from one to the other. "You do make an impression, Kiran."
"I'll explain later." She all but dragged him into the tunnel.
Kiran looked back wistfully as the darkness closed around them. "Couldn't I have tried to take us up? I know where I'm going this time."
"But you don't know when. I mean, what time do you think it is, up top?"
"I dunno, it felt like we were in that tunnel for hours. It's gotta be past one."
Ariane smiled. "See, that's just it. I can take us out five seconds after we went in."
Any reply Kiran would have made was cut off by the glow of the exit ahead of them. "What's the plan?" he whispered.
Ariane squeezed his hand. "I have no idea."
Read "A Wild Hunt, Part Six"