Original Sin

Epilogue: Bright Echo / Monster

In Which Rayne Finds What She's Sought.

Bright Echo

Posted by Jozh

Rayne walked close to Lesallai as the group made its way out of the desert and to a rise overlooking the Free City-State of Tyr. The massive stone walls shined brightly as the red sun dipped toward the horizon, and overshadowing the smaller buildings visible within the confines of King Tithian’s demesne were the relics of Kalak’s rule. The Golden Palace seemed aflame in the light of the waning day, glimmering in the richest and warmest colors the assassin had ever seen. It was such a sight, that it almost distracted her from the ziggurat standing silently beside the glorious structure. When her eyes fell upon the tiered edifice, however, Rayne’s mouth went dry. Each of the seven layers had been painted one of the colors of the color spectrum, with red at the top and violet at the bottom. The garishness of the decorated ziggurat was not the disturbing part for her, however. It appeared to be an exact scale recreation of the pyramid in Kalidnay. The ancient structure in the ruined city had been split open by a massive crack by forces no one living remembered or understood. Finding an apparently brand new and intact version of the ziggurat alarmed the assassin.

And then a familiar voice spoke in her mind.

Your Shadow calls upon you.

Startled, having always been the one to initiate contact with the darker aspect of herself, she answered hesitantly:

And I…answer?

You have reached your first destination. It is time to go to work…


Posted by Darth Krzysztof and Gnomesplosion

Rayne’s focus on her new assignment had allowed her to get over the shock of seeing the ziggurat by the time the group had talked their way past the Tyrian Guards at the Caravan Gate. Their story would have sounded better coming from Lesallai, but the eladrin still hadn’t returned to herself since facing the Wastewalker. After the others went their separate ways, Rayne practically led Les by the hand to a modest inn at the edge of the Caravan District, saying that a nice meal and a soft bed would do them both a world of good. She also explained that they could afford better accommodations by sharing a room, but the eladrin heard little, staring into the distance the whole way.

Rayne made arrangements with the innkeeper, then sat down to eat. Les seemed to have little stomach for the surprisingly good food, only picking at it until Rayne forced her to have a little more. The eladrin didn’t touch her broy, either. Rayne had never cared for the drink, but the fermented kank nectar soothed her nerves after her long, hot, stressful day, so she drained Les’s cup, as well as her own.

Rayne made a few attempts to engage Les in conversation, but to no avail. She could only get the eladrin’s attention by touching her, and even that was fleeting. As the sky grew dark, Rayne led Les to their room, sending her through the doorway before coming in behind her.

The room was small – not much bigger than Rayne’s quarters beneath the shattered pyramid at Kalidnay – but clean, with a low-framed bed with actual sheets, a wooden bench, a chest of drawers, an empty basin, a clay chamber pot, a stand with three lit candles, and one covered window. The bed called to her aching muscles… but only Rayne’s concern for her friend mattered. “I’m going to get out of this armor,” she told Les. “You should do the same.” When the eladrin didn’t reply right away, Rayne touched her shoulder and said, “Les? Can you do that for me?”

Les nodded without looking at Rayne, and moved beside the bed, where she started to remove her leather armor. She hummed a soft, sad tune to herself, slipping in an Elven word now and again, carefully laying each piece of armor on the bench. Les’s lovely voice brought no life to the song; Rayne felt sure that she only sang since it was part of the ritual. Still, it was more life than she’d shown since the Wastewalker…

Rayne shook her head, as if to clear it, and turned to lock the door. She slipped out of her sandals and padded to the chest of drawers, where she began to strip off her own armor. It isn’t fair, she thought. I’ve been waiting for days for time alone with Les. To tell her how I feel, to find out if she feels the same way… and now that the time’s finally here, she’s in shock!

Life isn’t fair. You can’t push this. Give Les as much time as she needs. You’ve waited this long…

Rayne sighed as she laid the last pieces of her armor on the chest of drawers, leaving her in the same rough, smelly shift and breeches she’d been wearing since time out of mind. She turned to look at Les, who was just removing the last bits of her own armor. Even without it, most of Les’s skin remained hidden under sheer cloth, some fabric that seemed to defy dirt and filth. The eladrin started peeling off layers, folding each article and placing it on the bench, starting with her socks. Rayne watched as Les exposed her petite, pale feet, then slender long legs, removing cuffs and collars and thick padding. As she shed her androgynous disguise, the hidden curves of her hips and breasts came into view, until she stood before Rayne in full femininity, something Rayne almost couldn’t imagine until now. The eladrin’s underclothes were similar to Rayne’s, a sheer tunic and shorts, though the shirt was much longer, and both were made of a silken material. Her flesh looked pale as a desert flower, almost luminescent, flawless and inviting. The urge to race across the room and touch Les washed over Rayne, to feel the supple skin beneath her fingertips; she only willed it away by balling her hands into fists.

Lesallai sat on the bed, folded her hands in her lap, and stared at the floor. Rayne started toward the window, but stopped when Les let out a long, quiet sniff. She crossed the room and sat next to the eladrin, laying a hand on her shoulder. “Les…” she began.

As Les shrugged and turned away, Rayne gently pivoted Les to face her, gazing into those lovely eyes, eyes whose hue could only be described as “cerulean.” She’s looking at me, Rayne thought. I’ve finally got her attention.

Her next thought vanished as Les kissed her.

The suddenness nearly made Rayne jump out of her skin, but the warm softness of the eladrin’s mouth held her in place. She could feel Les’s need, her desperation, awakening her own hunger, banishing her own weariness. But Les suddenly broke it off, hanging her head again. “I’m sorry. I should never… you wouldn’t… you heard him!” She seemed on the brink of tears. “I’m something much worse. Worse than the thing he was willing to destroy me for being.”

Rayne clasped one of Les’s hands between her own and tried to squeeze assurance into pale, slender fingers. “He’s insane, Les. There’s no room for preservation in… in the way he sees things.” When Les shook her head, Rayne continued: “Do you remember when he called you a monster? When you called upon your Shadow. I have a Shadow; does that make me a monster, too?”

Les looked back at her now, not quite smiling, but frowning a little less. “Of course not.”

“And what about your sister? Was she a monster?”

“No.” The frown returned.

Might have taken it too far there, but at least she’s talking to me. “He was wrong about you, Les. Just because you’re… something that a small mind can’t comprehend doesn’t make you the doom of the world.”

Les gazed at her for several long seconds, then asked, “Why are you doing this, Rayne?”

“Because I – I mean, because you – well…” As her words failed, Rayne leaned forward to kiss Les again. The eladrin resisted, possibly from fear or confusion, but that passed as Les sighed and arched her back into the kiss. Les gently ended it, her forehead pressed to Rayne’s, eyes locked with hers.

Les held one arm across the flatness of her stomach, nicely accentuating her breasts as the material tightened against them. “I want to show you something,” Les said, barely above a whisper. “I have something I haven’t worn in… a very long time… I would like you to tell me what you think of it.”

Rayne vaguely recognized the feel of her own head, nodding. As Les got up, placed her backpack on the bed and opened it, Rayne pictured a great stone phallus with an elaborate leather harness before shaking the thought; nothing about Les could be so… blunt. Les gently pulled a simple bundle of cloth from the pack. She looked back to Rayne, her cheeks flushed with color: “Turn around, please. And no peeking.”

Rayne swallowed hard at the knot in her throat and shifted on the bed until she faced the wall. She heard the backpack return to the floor, barely heard the length of fabric unfurl. What was happening? That sounded like the shift, or maybe the breeches, coming off, being folded, laid on the bench. Was Les nude at this moment? Air alone between the two of them? Was a single move all she needed to feel the hot, bare skin of the eladrin pressed against her own? Was Les really so shy that she didn’t want Rayne to peek? Or was the eladrin excited that Rayne might? So many questions… so many desires… all swirling around inside her, making her stomach tighten, and her body flush with heat – and the heavy blush of excitement.

She heard one bare foot lift and fall, then the other, then a rustling of fabric. That’d be the breeches coming off. Right? Folded. Laid down. Les was surely nude now, or close to it. Rayne heard the slightest whisper as Les took the parcel of cloth… unable to bear the temptation any longer, Rayne glanced over her shoulder.

The perfect slopes of Les’s bare bottom disappeared gently beneath the shimmering wave of blue-green fabric that poured down her sides. Les smoothed out the creases with long, slow motions, fingers passing over her shoulders, hands moving over her breasts, sliding around the contours of her hips, then down to her calves as she bent over. Oh, the things that fabric did to that upturned backside… Rayne felt another urge to touch, to run her own fingers over Les’s entire body and feel her flesh shiver underneath, and looked back at the wall just as the eladrin turned to face her.

“I said no peeking.” Les’s tone was a little playful, but carried enough stone to make Rayne’s face burn bright with embarrassment.

“Sorry,” Rayne said automatically, biting down on the urge to ask how she should be punished. Once a slave, always a slave…

“How does it look on me?”

Rayne turned again to find that all sense of ambiguity had left Lesallai Lollanthas. The shimmering blue-green material, whose hem brushed the floor, clung to every curve of her lithe figure. The swell of her breasts, larger and softer than Rayne would have guessed, now stood close together in a breathtaking show of pale, flawless cleavage. She couldn’t be sure if she could see Les’s nipples through the sheer material, or was merely imagining them… but she certainly made out their outlines, and it wasn’t cold air that had caused that. Les folded her bare arms over her stomach, head slightly tilted to one side, patiently awaiting an answer to her question.

One day, when Rayne had barely been fourteen, the Profit had sacked a merchant ship bound for Balic. She’d been the fattest prize they’d ever taken – with no blood spilled – and Rayne had dared to steal a kiss from the merchant ship’s handsome cabin boy before abandoning their quarry to their fate. That night, while the adults drank and carried on below, she’d lain on the Profit’s deck, cradling her share of the loot upon her belly, gazing up at the night sky. She saw every star in creation, like an endless ocean of priceless gems, the moons brilliant discs of green and gold, the cold desert wind singing just for her. That had always been the most perfect moment of her life, the most beautiful thing Rayne had ever seen.

“I think,” Rayne stammered in spite of her conviction, “that you’re the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”

Les’s blush grew even deeper; for a moment, words failed her. The flush of skin spread down Les’s neck, and her breasts glowed a soft rose color. She doesn’t believe me, Rayne thought, as the temperature of her own body rose once more. Finally, she said, “You… you’re very kind to say that, Rayne.”

“It’s true.” Lesallai probably last wore this gown for Allalantha, and that was not lost on Rayne.

Without taking her cerulean eyes off of Rayne, Les backed up to the bed and eased down next to her. She sat with her legs properly pulled beneath her, her arms holding her up as she leaned forward, showing Rayne the soft curves swelling beneath the fabric. Her free hand went to her lips, and she started to bite a nail on one of her smaller fingers thoughtfully. “Rayne… I… would you… do you want to go to bed with me?”

It seemed like a very euphemistic turn of phrase for such a direct question, but… “Yes! Of course I do.” Had she ever wanted anything more?

“I just… you shouldn’t do it just because I want to.”

And you shouldn’t do it just to drown your sorrows, Les, Rayne thought. I won’t be used like that. Ever again. But she knew that wasn’t the reason… or, at least, not the only reason.”No, I want to. Believe me. There’s just one thing. I, um… I don’t have anything to wear to bed.”

Les smiled for the first time in a long time – a sad smile, but a smile all the same. “I don’t see that as a problem.”

Rayne nodded as her hands traced over her bare belly to the hem of her shift, and she slowly tugged up on it. Les shifted her shoulders as though trying not to fall forward, and Rayne slowed her pace even more, pausing when only the underside of her bust came into view. She turned away from Les once more, missing the sight of Les’s eyes as they widened a touch. Rayne stood up and walked toward the chest of drawers, slid the shift up over her head, left it atop her armor, and covered each stiff nipple with a hand as she spun to face Les again. She felt sure that the eladrin enjoyed the show, and decided to keep going, making a few lazy spins around the room, casting shy glances over her shoulder, always careful to cover her bosom when Les could see it. The eladrin’s expression mixed fascination with unmistakable longing.

Rayne recalled belly dances she’d seen native girls perform in the Silt Archipelago – all swaying hips, knowing glances, ringing cymbals, scarlet ribbons and veils – and tried to create something of her own which evoked that. Swaying as if Les were still singing, Rayne felt less inhibited at every turn; with every glance she stole, she saw Les’s excited breathing in the heavy rise and fall of her chest. Finally, with her back to the eladrin, Rayne untied the drawstring of her breeches and gradually slid them down, hips swinging, exposing her buttocks to Les an inch at a time, until she could hold on no longer and her pants pooled around her feet.

She ran her hands down over her own rear, swiveling from side to side, then held her arms out wide in a balancing gesture, stepped out of her breeches, and turned to face Les one last time, exposed and unashamed. Les held a hand over her smile, eyes lingering for the briefest moment on Rayne’s neatly trimmed pubic mound, as Rayne sat back down on the bed. “Oh,” Rayne said, feeling her confidence ebb. “There’s something else. I’ve never… with another woman…”

Les’s fingers touched Rayne’s stomach, slid across her hip, and trailed down her thigh, then they were gone. Rayne noticed the subtle scent that clung to her… no, she would have noticed that before. It clung to Les’s gown. The smell reminded her of the Forest of Ringing Mountains; moreover, it reminded her of happier times, of days of youth, far from the decadence and wickedness of civilization. “It’s all right. I’ll show you.” Les glanced at the candles. “Or would you prefer darkness?”

“No,” Rayne said at once. “I want to see everything.”

Les smiled, finally looking like herself again. “Good. So do I.”

Les came forward with enough speed to make Rayne lean back beneath her. As the eladrin’s face came closer, Rayne ached for those lips to find hers, to kiss her forever… but Les froze mere inches away, those cerulean eyes locked on hers, one finger raised, still smiling. She brought that fingertip down to Rayne’s waist, drawing a slow, sensuous line up her body, skirting the outer edge of her breast, along her neck to her lips. Rayne tried to take that finger into her mouth, but Les pulled it away, tapping her on the nose with a good-natured “No.”

Rayne pouted until Les returned the fingertip to her mouth, lightly tracing one lip, then the other, still looking deeply into her eyes. She almost felt dizzy, like she might fall into Les’s gaze, and her heart thudded until it threatened to burst from her chest. How long did Les intend to keep this up? It may have been sweet agony, but it was agony, still and all. When Rayne was sure she could take no more, Les moved the finger beneath Rayne’s chin, holding her in place as the eladrin leaned forward to kiss her mouth.

Nothing else in creation could have been so warm, so soft and gentle, tentative and confident all at once. It made every bit of her throb with need; it cast light on her Shadow until it all but vanished. Rayne closed her eyes and leaned into it, but opened them again as Les pulled her mouth away, pausing only for one brief lick at Rayne’s lips.

Les kissed her on the ear; when her lips lingered for a moment, Rayne hoped for something whispered – a wicked secret, a hidden desire, a shy demand. But Les’s lips moved down her neck, kissing around the same breast her fingertip had circled, and further down, planting a kiss every few inches until Rayne could feel Les’s breath within her navel. She fought off the urge to shudder as the eladrin rained light kisses upon her stomach… and when Les used the tip of her tongue to blaze a trail from her belly button down her thigh, she realized how wet she’d become. As Les gave her a small bite on the inner knee, Rayne opened her mouth to beg her for more – but all she could do was pant.

Looking up into Rayne’s eyes again, Les leaned to one side and laid another finger on Rayne’s chest. The fingertip glowed where it found her skin, leaving a warm, shining trail of light as it slowly moved between Rayne’s breasts and down her stomach. When it stopped at the ridge of her pubic bone, Rayne moaned and shuddered in sheer ecstasy, unable – and unwilling – to fight it this time.

Les held still for a minor eternity as the glowing line faded, her finger still pressed against Rayne’s pelvis. She yearned to thrust up at Les, to show what all this touching had done to her, but she knew better. But this waiting…! “Les,” she began, her voice sounding impossibly husky to her own ears.

“Shhh,” Les said. She crawled over Rayne until they came face to face again, maneuvering her left leg, half-exposed by the rising gown, in between Rayne’s. The eladrin came down, as if for another kiss, but gently bit the human’s lower lip instead. Rayne’s breath burst from her in a sudden cry, but she refused to pull away.

Les released Rayne’s lip and began to gently grind her thigh against Rayne’s sex, causing her to gasp. Rayne squeezed Les’s leg between hers, locking her ankles on the far side, and looked the eladrin in the eyes once more. She allowed Les to drive the pace of the grinding, but occasionally added her own pressure until Les persuaded her to ease up, the eladrin’s smile more sly than shy.

As Les ground against Rayne, stoking the human’s passion with every thrust, she reached behind her back to untie the top of her gown. Les loosened it to fit over her shoulders, then lifted it from the bottom, up over her head, giving Rayne her first full look at her naked body. She was lithe and lean, as Rayne had glimpsed, and glorious to behold. And, aside from her head, she was perfectly hairless. Rayne’s joy must have shown in her face, because Les’s grin broadened, and the pace of her thrusting quickened for a moment.

Les folded the gown and, with some effort, laid it on the bench, never ceasing the grind. She then caught Rayne’s hands in her own and guided them to her own belly, then up to her breasts. Rayne gleefully played with them, surprised to find them about the same size as her own, tweaking the tips of each as Les’s leg continued to press against her. Les lowered her face to Rayne’s to kiss her again; the human went to lick the eladrin’s lips, as Les had done to her, and their tongues met for a split second.

Les arched her back, breaking the kiss, but bringing her chest even closer to Rayne. With her hands already there, the human guided one breast up to her face. Rayne swirled her tongue around the nipple; when the eladrin whispered breathily, “Please…” she took it into her mouth and sucked greedily, fingers still working the other breast, until Les laughed in sheer pleasure.

Les’s hands left Rayne’s, then seemed to be everywhere at once, brushing across Rayne’s cheek, the peaks of her breasts, her hips, her waist. One hand stole between Les’s thigh and Rayne’s groin, rubbing against her for a split second before stealing away, back to Les’s face to be smelled, to be licked – making sure that Rayne didn’t miss a moment of it. Her thighs clenched together, squeezing Les’s leg, slippery with her own passion, against herself, and she released Les’s nipple to blow cool air on it, causing the eladrin to shiver before taking it back into her mouth.

Rayne had never been so aroused – had never dared to dream that she could be so aroused – slick with sweat, heart hammering in her ears. Each breath seemed to bring in less air than the one before. Every part of her body ached for Les to caress her, kiss her, taste her, satisfy her… and every part of her soul ached to do the same, and more, to Les.

Still pressing her thigh against Rayne, Les moved down to where she’d straddled Rayne’s hip, and started to grind herself against it, coating Rayne’s skin in a slick honey. The eladrin’s breathing sped up, but she barely made a sound, a sharp contrast to Rayne’s own moaning. She leaned forward for another kiss – more passionate than before, as they rocked together – and pulled away, a shining strand of saliva strung between their mouths. Les moved a hand under Rayne’s right calf, lifting that leg to slide her own beneath it, coming forward until the heat of her hairless sex crashed into Rayne’s. Both women gasped as their juices mingled, coating their pubic mounds as they ground together, moving in tandem with one another.

Rayne leaned back for leverage, pressing against Les for all she was worth until the eladrin sucked in a sudden breath and let it out in a high-pitched squeak of barely-suppressed pleasure. Les locked eyes with Rayne and pulled her leg at the knee to renew the grinding of their folds. Rayne felt her lover’s need, throbbing between her legs, as Les arched her back and bit her lip to keep from crying out, shuddering with quiet whimpers instead.

She’s climaxing! Rayne realized. I’ve never seen a woman climax before. I’ve never climaxed before… Then, as Les gazed into her eyes once more, Rayne thought: Oh, Great Shadow, I’m going to!

“Come on,” Les sighed, never taking her eyes away. “Come for me, Rayne.”

A column of dark fire erupted inside Rayne, roaring through her blood, and she surrendered all control, trembling, clenching, crying out, dead and reborn with every rapturous wave, Les’s pressure against her finally faltering as Rayne returned to herself. Les slipped out of the scissor and kissed Rayne’s mouth, trailing her lips down once more, stopping at one breast to lick a circle around the areola until it ached. As before, she kissed her way down Rayne’s stomach to her navel, kissing, kissing, flicking her tongue inside… then below her belly button, to the soft flesh between her stomach and her pelvic bone.

Rayne felt fire and shadow stirring within her anew as Les gently bit her, then continued downward with soft, quick licks, diligently cleaning their mixed, still-warm juices, savoring every drop of their lust. Rayne moaned as the eladrin nibbled at the line where her thigh met her groin; tongue flicked along skin, raising goosebumps. Now that her fever had finally broken, Rayne was perfectly willing to let her lover take her sweet, sweet time down there.

Except… oral sex was slave’s work; Rayne had performed enough of it to know. It was beneath someone like… “Les,” she whispered, “please. You don’t have to…”

Les locked eyes with her again, desire burning there. “I want to,” she said, lowering her mouth to Rayne’s sex, baring her teeth against the button there until Rayne sharply inhaled. She drew her tongue gently up between Rayne’s lips to flick at the tiny pleasure center, to swirl around it, slowly gliding her tongue back down to lap deeper and deeper into Rayne, as her very center convulsed with naked pleasure, and Rayne began to come again.

She wanted Les’s fingers inside her, yearned to be filled with her, but shuddered and screamed every bit as fiercely as before. Les still kept eye contact as best she could; when she knew that the eladrin was looking, she cupped her own breast and raised it to her mouth, sucking on her own nipple, teasing it with her tongue. The sight made Les lick with greater ardor, made Rayne peak until her juices covered her lover’s face. She fought the urge to press her thighs against Les’s head, choosing instead to lightly fondle the tips of her pointed ears with one hand, while the other flicked between her own nipples.

Les crawled slowly up, her smiling mouth glistening with Rayne’s nectar. She kissed Rayne, harder and deeper than before, letting her taste herself in her mouth. Les’s tongue flicked into hers, met hers, and did not shy away. The eladrin’s hands went to the small of Rayne’s back, easing her into an embrace, and their breasts came together, causing both women to groan.

Rayne spent a moment concentrating on the kiss, exploring Les’s mouth with her tongue, allowing her lover to explore her own, shifting her lips, turning her head. She freed her left arm from the embrace and brought her hand to Les’s buttocks, relishing the feel of the smooth, tight flesh. She brought her other hand to the front, cupping Les’s groin in it, causing the eladrin to moan into her mouth when she gently squeezed.

Les didn’t put anything but her tongue in me, Rayne thought. She must have her reasons. Breaking the kiss, she brought her mouth to Les’s ear, cooing: “Do you want me inside you?”

“No,” Les gasped.”Please… gently…”

Could she still be a virgin? Rayne tried to push away, to kneel before Les, to give her what she’d given, but Les held her fast, kissed her mouth, and ground her sex against Rayne’s hand.

The button’s the trick, she thought, giving Les’s the slightest pinch, flicking at it with one finger, then two, until Les’s breathing came only in short, sharp pants. She ran one finger between the lips of her lover’s cleft, and Les climaxed again, moaning, squeaking into their kiss, and biting Rayne’s lip with a gasp.

The shock made Rayne raise her left hand and bring it down on Les’s backside with a great slap, and Les let go of Rayne’s lip and came again, this cry much less restrained. Rayne readied another blow, but brought the hand back between the two women. While her right hand worked the soft wetness of Les’s slit, she brought the left to her own sex.

“You belong to me, now,” Kavros had said on her first day in his house. “No one else will ever touch you… not even you.”

That slave girl never could have imagined something like this – certainly couldn’t have imagined it happening to her. She rubbed herself while she rubbed Les, while her lover held her tightly, kissed her, pressed her nipples against hers. She pushed a finger inside herself and almost swooned, pulled it partway out, then pushed it back in, joined by a second, then a third. If Les’s depths are taboo, then I’ll just have to break an older taboo. She plumbed her own depths and stroked Les’s slit until they came together with unmistakable finality, unable to move, barely able to breathe.

Les released Rayne, brought the human’s hands to her own face, and began to slowly lick each finger clean. Rayne leaned forward to join her, and their tongues met in the middle, melding into one sweet, lasting kiss.

Rayne reclined on her back, drenched in sweat, muscles singing with exhaustion, still on top of the sheets. Les lay at her side, propped up on one elbow, stroking her lover’s stomach, gazing at the gray of her eyes. “Your eyes are so lovely,” Les said. “Like storm clouds before the rain comes.”

“I’ve never seen rain.” Few had; for Athas to see rainfall more than once in a decade was unheard of. The Profit’s captain had told Rayne that she’d been so named for being born during a rainstorm, but she’d never really believed it. It felt oddly thrilling, though, for someone so beautiful to call her lovely… A wistful look crossed Les’s face, and Rayne reached up to caress her cheek. “What’s wrong, Les?” Please, she thought, don’t start feeling like a monster again…

“Just tired. I’d give anything for a bath.” That might have been true – Rayne certainly needed to clean up – but it couldn’t be the whole story.

Rayne glanced at the empty wash basin. “I could bring you some sand.”

Les favored her with a sad little smile. “Thank you, but no. I mean a real bath… in the Lands Within the Wind, we’d always bathe in the stream.”

“Bathing in water? I can’t imagine such a thing…” Well, picturing a stream of water large enough to bathe in was difficult. Imagining Lesallai and Allalantha within that stream – frolicking, stealing kisses, shining droplets clinging to their naked skin – was all too easy. Rayne shook her head, now unable to think about anything else. That meant that Les, too, was thinking of her lost twin sister. “Um…” Rayne began. “Anything else I can do for you?”

“No. Well, I’m terribly warm, but I don’t want you to get up.”

Rayne smiled and flicked a wrist at the window, which quietly clicked open. Cool night air and moonlight spilled into the room, causing Les’s skin to glow anew.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” Les said.

Rayne put on her best smirk. “A wild talent of mine. You may not believe it, but there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Lesallai Lollanthas.” Les looked impressed, and Rayne’s smile grew wider. “That’s right. I’ve been practicing saying it.”

“Aren’t you full of secrets.”

“For me to know,” Rayne said, “and you to find out.”

“Don’t think I won’t.” Les looked up at the still-burning candles. “Can you snuff those with your wild talent?”

“No,” she lied. “Would you mind?”

As Rayne had hoped, the eladrin rose to her knees and pivoted around to face the candle stand, giving Rayne the view of her derriere she’d wanted. As the eladrin’s feet swung around, Rayne reached for Les’s upturned soles, causing the eladrin to pause.“Your feet are so pretty,” Rayne said, “and so small for someone your size.” Indeed, they weren’t much larger than Rayne’s… “That can’t make it easy when you… when you’re being a man.”

Les shrugged, stretching her toes out in appreciation of Rayne’s touch. “They don’t see my feet,” she said, blowing out the candles one by one.

No, they don’t see the real you, Rayne thought, stroking the bottom of each toe. Nobody sees the real you. Nobody but me… What it must have cost you to share that with me… with me, of all people. The Wastewalker couldn’t have been more wrong about you.

Rayne thought about the strange confluence of events that had led her here, to Tyr’s… copy of Kaliday’s pyramid. She thought about her mission, certain that her presence here was no coincidence. And she shuddered to think of what the Grandfather of Assassins would say, or do, if he knew that Rayne’s lover was an assassin not of the Hidden… Les’s life might be in danger. Rayne’s, too.

Had Rayne just made the biggest mistake of her life?

She thought all of this in the time it took Les to blow out three candles. The eladrin eased down beside her in the soft, cooling darkness, placing one gentle kiss on Rayne’s ear.

“The Hidden gave me an assignment,” Rayne whispered. “I could… I could use your help, if you’re willing.” Once she explained the details, the eladrin was silent for five full minutes before agreeing. It was much to ask of Les, and the ziggurat had affected her… not in the same way it had affected Rayne, but just as profoundly. Perhaps it had called to her Shadow, as the gemstone trinket in the Devourer’s image had.

These are dark roads we walk, she thought, but we’re dark women, and at least we don’t have to walk them alone. The thought cheered Rayne, who’d come to associate intimacy with abandonment or betrayal. Now Lesallai’s nearness filled her with hope.

“Les,” Rayne heard herself say, “I think I love you.”

No, she thought. That’s the biggest mistake of my life. She felt Les stiffen, then shudder, That’s it, you’ve frightened her away! We’ve had such a good time tonight, and now you’ve ruined it by making it serious… look at how much pain the truth always brings her. Truth never helps anything…

“Hold me, Rayne,” Les whispered.

“Les, I…”


She put her arms around Les as the eladrin settled her head on Rayne’s chest, shifting her body to lay one long leg over Rayne’s. She kissed the top of Les’s head, ran her fingers once through pale blond hair, and closed her eyes to find sleep lurking there, awaiting her.



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