"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly.
I read a poem once, when I was twelve, about a spider and a fly. The spider asked the fly to come into his home, but she refused because she knew she'd never leave again. He tried to coax her, with false promises that she'd be fine. She continued to play it safe. But then he found her weakness. He started flattering her, and the foolish, vain thing fell for it and was never seen or heard from again.
A silly little poem, I thought at the time. A silly little fly. I had only read the thing because Bambi, my only friend at the time, had said it contained a valuable lesson. All I got from it was that vanity was stupid and dangerous. It would be four years before I found out what Bambi really wanted me to learn. As it was, I set it aside and didn't give it much thought.
But that comes later.
I stretched out on my bed, staring at the shadow covered ceiling as I cocooned myself in my blanket. When I had decided to return to my room at the boarding school I attended, I had not realized that the heating would be turned off. It made sense, really. It was the school holiday, and more or less everyone had gone home to be with their families.
I didn't have a family. Not anymore. Raven Bayne, my mother, had died when I was just a baby, leaving me in the care of the Lumiere, the coven of white witches who took it upon themselves to police the rest of the magical world. For the first sixteen years of my life, they had been my family.
If you could count an entire village of women who would sooner see you imprisoned for the rest of your life family.
The Lumiere apparently felt that I was an unstable force that had to be dealt with. It was Bambi's fault, really. Banzar, the angel slayer, was a demonic sword of which the likes were never seen elsewhere. He's a legend in his own right, and destroyed many witches before they managed to lock him up in the Archives, the vaults under the village where they kept all magical artifacts.
However, when I was barely more than a baby, I stumbled into the highly protected and secured Archives. Don't ask me how. I was too young to remember, and no one was able to give me a good answer. I found the sword, whom I call Bambi, and started playing with him. For reasons Bambi never really explained, he took a liking to me and refused to allow anyone to separate us. Much to the Lumiere's fear and disgust, we've been together ever since.
That fear, however, was what led the Council to giving me a risky mission outside the village. A magical artifact was sensed floating around Dark Rivers Academy, an all boys school. They choose me to impersonate a boy and search the grounds for the artifact. They hoped I would fail, or at the very least provide them with the rope they needed to hang me.
Of course, that was the one time in my life when I didn't fail them. An accident ended up with me in front of the entire village, being sentenced to life imprisonment. That wasn't going to fly, though, and I said as much.
Right before I told them to leave me alone and walked away from everything I had ever known once and for all. Did I think that it was over? No. Did I think they'd come after me? Hell yes. Did I hope that they'd take awhile to work up to it? Yeah.
So that was what led to me being here, in my room, staring at the ceiling as I tried to ignore the chill and problems swirling around my head. Because I had left at the beginning of winter break, the school thought that I would be gone for the entire week long vacation. My roommate had gone home for the holidays as well. Which meant that no one had been in the room to merit being heated when I returned.
But I didn't mind the cold too much. I grew up in a mountain village. This was nothing more than a brisk spring day. Uncomfortable, yes, but not enough to merit too much concern or complaining.
You're wallowing, Bambi noted, his voice sounding clearly in my mind. I discovered at an early age that no one else could hear Bambi. The fact that I could hear his voice was one that I had kept close to my vest for the longest time. It didn't do to have my fellow witches thinking that I was insane as well as in possession of a dark soul.
Normally, he was a large, beautifully carved sword with a sapphire at the pommel. At the moment, however, he was wrapped up in a binding chain that shrank him down to toothpick size. The chain was attached to an earring stud, which was in my earlobe, making Bambi look more like a rebellious accessory than the fearsome demonic sword he was. The binding was supposed to dampen his magic and render him harmless. It did nothing more than make him more portable, though.
"I am not," I retorted, sighing heavily.
"You are," Yiska retorted from his position by the glass doors that led out onto the balcony. It was the Deman's favorite spot, I think.
Yiska was the sole exception to that whole "no one else hears Bambi" thing. He was also the rope that the Lumiere had tried t hang me with.
His hair was a deep, sapphire blue, falling around an almost femininely beautiful face. His eyebrows covered the arch above his eyes, but feathered out delicately. Under them were the enchanting swriling silver blue eyes. His pupil, which should have been black, was an almost glowing white. On either side of his face, the skin surrounding his eyes and half of his cheeks was darker than the rest. It didn't look like a tattoo, but more like a tan that had been purposely shaped to look like two birds of prey or dragons flying toward each other. Their wings trailed down his cheeks while their bowed head rested on either side of the bridge of his nose.
Despite his feminine face, he possessed broad shoulders and a most assuredly masculine build. The severe differences should have clashed, but somehow they seemed to blend together perfectly. While I managed to convince him that a t-shirt and jeans would be more comfortable than his leather armor, he still insisted on wearing his silver jewelry. Silver bands made an interesting design around a center that seemed like a cross between a diamond and a heart which clung to his throat in the form of a choker.
The necklace went with the earring and headpiece that he wore. At least, I think it was a headpiece. What seemed like a silver chain trailing along his forehead with the crescent moon pendent resting right over the center could have been a part of his skin. The earring had a crescent moon dangling at the end of a long chain. For all I knew, these accessories were actually a part of his skin. I'd certainly never seen him without them.
It was common knowledge among anyone who knew of the magic in the world that it was split into two categories. You had white magic, which encompassed all things good and nurturing, and black magic, which was all things bad and destructive. Everything fell into one of those two categories.
The angels and demons, or more accurately Engals and Demans, were the creators of the artifacts that the Lumiere devoted so much time to collecting. Thousands of years ago, the two races were at war with one another, and as a result had created countless magical weapons. Those weapons, or artifacts, were scattered throughout the world and eventually forgotten about as the war ended.
You didn't need to have magic in order to use an artifact. You just had to be on the same mental, emotional, or spiritual wavelength with the object. A normal, nonmagical human could cause a lot of trouble with an angelic artifact, if she possessed a link to it. Don't even get me started on the damage a demonic artifact could do. It was that reason that the Lumiere made it their primary goal to gather all of these weapons together and kept them out of anyone's hands.
It was also the whole soul connection thing that led them to thinking I was a threat. After all, only someone with a black heart could have a bond with history's most violent and dangerous demonic artifact.
For their part in all of this, the Demans and Engals stayed more or less out of things. Their lack of interference left us mere mortals to forget what they really were and romanticize them into the more culturally popular angels and demons. Trust me when I say they're not. They seem to be as varied as any other race.
Mind, the only Deman I've ever met was Yiska. As a soldier in the Great War between Engals and Demans, he was sealed away into a pretty silver ring with five moonstones. When I stumbled across it, I accidently released him.
While Yiska had been sealed away for generations, he hadn't been aware of any time passing. So, when he emerged from the ring, he was still in battle mode and I, apparently, looked like an Engal. Let's just say that we had a rocky start. When I tried to cast a spell to shield myself, I accidently finished the original sealing spell that had been cast on him and bound him to me.
According to Bambi, Yiska and I were stuck with each other. The spell wound us so tightly together that it actually affected behavior. At least, it affected Yiska's. Despite his desire to wring my neck, which I only deserved half the time, he couldn't hurt me. He was even compelled to protect me. And yes, that pissed the moonlight out of him. I wasn't overly happy about it. But the only way to break the spell was for one of us to die, which wasn't really an acceptable solution.
The Lumiere used Yiska's accidental enslavement as the excuse to crucify me before the village. The rest you already know.
"I wasn't wallowing," I repeated, yanking my thoughts away from the events that had only happened a few days ago. "I was thinking about tomorrow."
"Tormorrow?" Yiska repeated with a frown.
"Thatcher comes back, tomorrow," I reminded the Deman.
Thatcher was my roommate, and also the only other person, besides Yiska and Bambi, who knew I was a girl. I had managed to convince everyone else in Dark Rivers Academy that I was a boy, thanks to a magically charmed breast binder and a naturally husky voice. To everyone else, I was a pretty boy, but a boy nonetheless.
Bambi knew my secret because he had been with me all my life, more or less. Yiska knew, most likely, because our first meeting had ended with me in a bed for several weeks, unbound and unconscious as I healed from our fight. Thatcher, however, knew I was a girl from the first moment he had met me. Annoying bastard.
What I hadn't realized when I first enrolled in the school was that Thatcher, my roommate, was a black mage. White magic normally ran in females while black magic ran in males. Something about like calling to like, I think. Anyway, he sensed the white magic churning under my skin and correctly deduced that I was a girl.
The annoying prick, however, thought it would be more amusing to just watch and see how I handled school. It wasn't until Yiska tripped into our lives that I found out he knew I was a girl, let alone that he was a black mage.
Now, if I had been any other white witch, I probably would have attacked him the moment I knew what he was. Most of the Lumiere see the world in very black and white images, no pun intended. They very rarely deal in shades of gray. Their treatment of me was a pretty good indication of that.
Having Bambi chattering in my head for thirteen or so years taught me better, though. He made sure that I understood that not even magic was all black and white. Oh, no, there was no such thing as gray magic. The two didn't mix and match. In fact, they really were polar opposites. But they were forces of nature, and such things were never good or evil. Just positive or negative. Even black magic could be used to protect and help, while even white magic could be used to harm and torment.
So, I didn't jump on Thatcher's case because he was a black mage. My dislike of him was completely instinctual and induced by his mere existence. I… was still trying to figure it out. Bambi thought I was reacting subconsciously to the challenge Thatcher presented, but I wasn't so sure.
We had only recently reached a sort of truce in which he helped me by not tattling on me, and I let him "observe" me. It was an odd arrangement, but it worked and I wasn't going to poke at it too hard.
"What does the black mage's return matter?" Yiska asked, frowning at me. It seemed that, once again, I'd thrown him a curveball. He had stopped hating me unconditionally, and now he spent a good deal of time confused by me. It was almost amusing.
"Well, when he comes back, they'll turn on the heat for one," I pointed out. We hadn't really let anyone know that we'd come back to the dorm. I kind of preferred the privacy and secrecy that it provided. So long as no one knew I was around, they didn't come looking for me, and I was better able to conduct my searches for the artifact undiscovered. And that was the original reason I was there.
I had never been able to give up on something once I started it. Call it my fatal flaw if you like. Though it was true the Lumiere sent me on an assignment in hopes I would fail, they didn't send me on a bogus one. There was a genuine artifact floating around the school. I had gotten close to finding it once, but the blasted thing slipped out of my fingers. I don't know how yet.
With nothing else to do after walking away from the Lumiere, I returned to my task. I figured I would at least find the artifact, return it to the village, and then be on my merry way. No, I didn't think it would be that easy, but having a goal in mind was better than wandering around aimlessly, thinking about how screwed I was.
You said you didn't mind the cold, Bambi chided me, concern in his voice. You should have gone to the utilities manager or found a groundskeeper. They could have turned on the heat for you.
"I'm fine, Bambi," I rolled my eyes. "The heating spells I put in place work fine." Even if I couldn't really charge them as much as I wanted to. "I can last until tomorrow. Besides, I need to talk to Thatcher about what happened."
You do? Why? Bambi asked, suspiciously. He's a black mage, Skylark. You don't need to tell him anything.
"He is not your partner," Yiska added, returning his gaze to the sky outside. "You do not need to explain yourself to him."
"Maybe not, but he does know more about the outside world than I do," I reminded both of them. "You've been trapped in a ring for two thousand years, Yiska. And you, Bambi, have been in the village for the last sixteen years. None of us have any idea what to expect when we leave. Thatcher will, and he already knows all my secrets so there's no worries about letting something slip."
He doesn't know all your secrets, Bambi argued, not at all pleased. However, he wasn't flat out refusing to allow me to do this, so I guessed he couldn't disagree too much.
"He knows the important ones," I corrected myself. "I'm no happier about this than you are, Bambi. But we don't have a choice. If I'm lucky, he won't be too much of a pain about this."
"And if you are not?" Yiska asked, still not looking at me.
"Then I'm either in for a migraine or we'll have to muddle through on our own and hope we don't get killed."
The Deman seemed to consider that for a moment before nodding. I studied him from my position on the bed. Ever since we escaped the village, and our trial, he had been unusually cooperative. It was almost like he'd decided to make the best of his situation.
"I'm hungry," I decided, unwrapping myself and standing. Since being bound to Yiska, I had discovered that I ate more than normal without gaining any weight. Bambi said this was my body's way of replenishing the energy that Yiska subconsciously pulled on. I could flip the flow the other way and draw from him as well, if I wanted, but I had closed that door almost before I even knew it was there. It was bad enough that Yiska was unwillingly enslaved, I wasn't going to pull on his resources as well.
I hadn't quite figured out how to shut down the connection that allowed him to pull on my energy, though. Since the only side effect seemed to be an increased appetite, it seemed like a low priority.
Didn't you just eat? Bambi, helpful as ever, asked.
"A few hours ago," I answered, stiffly. "I'm just going to grab a snack. Wanna come with, Yiska? There's no one around to see you, so there's no point in hiding."
"If you allow yourself to think like that, you will be discovered in little time," Yiska snorted. Nonetheless, he stepped fully into the room and closed the balcony doors.
"And if I let myself be as paranoid as you or Bambi, I'll go completely insane," I countered with a roll of my eyes. I led the way out of the room and toward the stairs. My room was on the fifth floor of the dorm building, with no elevators. If nothing else, the daily exercise I got going to and from my room kept me in shape.
I felt more than heard Yiska following me. I swear, even if I stuck a bell on the Deman, he wouldn't have made a sound. He had some kind of power over shadows, and I think he used that to his advantage a little more than absolutely necessary. It bugged me, sometimes, that I wasn't sure how he did things.
But I knew better than to ask, too much. Bambi had always encouraged me to ask questions and think for myself. He didn't brainwash me, like the Lumiere was afraid his presence would, but rather taught me that things weren't always as they appeared. I knew there were some things he wouldn't tell me, yet, but there was always the implication that eventually he would.
Yiska, however, could be as closed lip as a clam. He was also as unpredictable as the undercurrents in the ocean. Sometimes he would answer my questions, and sometimes he wouldn't I never quite knew what to expect from him. When it came to his abilities, he was less than forthcoming with information.
I was still mulling this quirk over when we reached the first floor. No sooner had I hopped off the bottom step than Yiska wrapped an arm around my waist and yanked me behind him. I stumbled and would have fallen, if the Deman hadn't kept a firm hold on me.
"Yisk!" I snapped, bracing myself against his back. "What in the name of the goddess are you doing?" Was this another of his botched assassination attempts? I'd thought we were past that!
My only answer from the Deman was a low, threatening growl. That wasn't good.
We have company, Bambi informed me, his own tone dark.
Fear flooded me as scenarios classmates returning early flooded my mind. Yiska was right. It was foolish of me to have thought he could just walk around in the open. I may have grown up in a culture that embraced the supernatural aspect of the world, but the majority of humans lived their lives thinking, foolishly, that magic and all the things that went bump in the night were just stories.
I counted five panicked heartbeats before I twisted around Yiska to see what the damage was. I was expecting to see a boy around my age, on the verge of fainting. Not manly, but how do you think you'd react when faced with someone who looked like Yiska? Beautiful, he might be, but he was also very, very much not human.
Instead, what I saw was a man. There was an air of agelessness about him that made it difficult to guess his age. If I had to, I would have put him in his twenties, somewhere. Chocolate brown hair was pulled into low ponytail, allowing two locks to frame a golden brown face. Sharp, green eyes glinted predatorily at me from angular features. He was lean, though something about him made me think that mistaking him for weak would be a huge mistake.
He was shockingly attractive, even in what seemed to be a casual pair of blue jeans and a black t-shirt. He stood directly in our path, his eyes on me as he gave an amused smile. Something about that expression, about those eyes, was oddly familiar. I dug through my memories, trying to place where I could have seen him before. When he spoke, the pieces clicked into place.
All he said were two words, but it was enough to make my blood drain from my face.