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October 03, 2022

Old Town

By Jerry Seeger

It was spring; the sun lingered longer each day, while the Old Town held her breath. Finally night would come, chasing away the noise and clamor of the tourist onslaught, allowing the streets to fall into their ancient rhythm. Alone in the peace of the night, Wilson thought he could hear the city whispering to him, telling him secrets a thousand years old.

Wilson eased into the shadows of the narrow, winding street, leaning against the ancient stonework. He fished a pack of cigarettes out of the pocket of his long coat, more to occupy his hands than out of any need for nicotine. The wooden match hissed and flared in the late-night silence; when his cigarette was lit he threw the match into the street and watched it disappear between rain-slick paving stones. He took a deep drag and looked at his watch; his clients were generally punctual, but they were also cautious. His new contact seemed even more skittish than Pavel had been. He wasn't looking forward to breaking in another of them.

Like Pavel, Wilson's new contact insisted that they meet in the shadows in the heart of the city. This kind of cloak-and-dagger stuff was worse than useless against modern surveillance technology, but if it made them feel better, what the hell. He had already learned you can't argue with elves; they're good talkers, but not good listeners.

Occasionally a knot of tourists would pass, the last few stragglers from the day's invasion. He looked them over carefully from behind the hand that held the cigarette to his mouth, but none of them as much as glanced his way.

The center of the city twists and turns, a labyrinth that has for centuries avoided the destruction of bombs and urban renewal. Now every foot of each street is lined with shops, calling out to the hordes of a new sort of barbarian. By day tourists rule the narrow cobbled streets, stopping to peer into windows, mosquito-like, temporary, each here and gone in the blink of the ancient city's eye, but the swarm remains.

As night falls the invaders recede, first from the shops, then from the cafes and restaurants, and finally from the bars and pubs, finding their ways to safe beds or unsafe nightclubs in newer parts of the city. The serpentine streets slip into the shadows easily, a graceful woman putting on her faded and worn nightshirt, soft and filled with memories. The few who occupy the Old Town by night emerge cautiously and breathe a sigh of relief.

Wilson tossed the cigarette to the street and lit a new one. When he blinked away the afterimage of the match flare he was looking at the woman he had come to meet. "You're late," he said, taking a drag on his cigarette to cover his surprise. He blew the smoke out slowly. The smell would irritate her. It was unprofessional, he knew, but there was something about the way she looked at him that made him nervous, more than any of the others had.

She ignored the slight and shrugged. She was lit from the side by a lamp down the street, but even where the light hit her she was hard to see. Slippery. His eye slid off her, making it difficult to discern her delicate face with its high cheekbones and arched eyebrows.

"What have you learned?" she asked.

"It looks like there's three groups of them, working together. Two are out in the sticks."

Her brow furrowed. "The ... ?"

"It's an expression. Out in the countryside."

She nodded. "Where is the third?"

"In Mala Strana, just across the river."

She sucked in her breath sharply and said something he couldn't hear. "That is worse than we expected," she finally said. "He should not be there. Not without us knowing about it." She produced an envelope from inside her dark coat. There would be cash inside, he knew, crisp new bills. She watched him closely as she handed it to him. "This is payment for your services to this point. Honor binds me to offer you release from our contract. Things will become very dangerous shortly."

Wilson accepted the envelope. It felt heavier than it should have, the weight of thirty pieces of silver. She was looking at him again, searching for something, an answer, but Wilson didn't even know the question, and didn't care to find out. Still, there was the job. "How dangerous?" he asked.

"The ones outside the city we can handle. Vaclav is another matter. I have been watching you; you have been working for us longer than you know. You are in a unique position help us."

Something clicked with Wilson, something about the way she stood, the way she talked. Now that he thought about it, Pavel had been the same way. "You're a cop, aren't you?"

She pursed her lips and regarded him carefully. "You might say that."

"I don't like cops."

"You are American, yes? It would be more accurate to think of us like your FBI."

"I especially don't like the feds."

"You would like Vaclav even less."

"Don't be too sure." He pocketed the envelope and reached for another cigarette.

"Mr. Wilson, this is not your fight, but things could go very badly for your people should we lose."

"There's been guys like him before, right?"

"Not for a long time."

He shrugged and struck a match. "We're still here."

She took a ragged breath. "Mr. Wilson, help us. Please."

He hesitated before the fire reached his cigarette. There was something in the 'please', an ancient weariness, an endless sadness, that resonated in the narrow street. The word came back at him from the shuttered doors and darkened windows all around him. It rose from the cobblestones and was an echo from a time long past, when the hands of man had first stacked the stones that now towered around him. She had paid a high price to say that word; her kind did not say please often, not to people like him. The match flame reached his fingertips and he tossed it away.

Before he could frame a reply she snapped around to look down the street. Soon Wilson could also hear the group of tourists approaching, British, drunk, and loud. She stepped into the shadow next to him and though she was only inches away she seemed to disappear, absorbed into the stones of Old Town. He felt her readiness, though, the tension of a viper ready to strike.

The group came into view; they looked like a rugby team as they staggered along, all of them big and all of them drunk, pushing on each other and bellowing raunchy songs. He felt her hand on the small of his back, a gesture anyone watching would take as an expression of tenderness, but with her finger she began to draw a map, a diagram he was mildly surprised to discover he understood. If the approaching men were not simple tourists, the map said, they would be a decoy. He would have to handle them on his own while she countered the real threat. Even with the illegal hardware he carried Wilson knew he would be no match for that many big men if they were intent on taking him down. He hoped she would not be as overmatched dealing with the real threat.

The drunks passed and continued up the road, with only one or two crude comments directed at Wilson. They didn't notice his companion at all. Her hand dropped away from his back, leaving a ghost of the map her slender finger had traced. Her crackling readiness faded but did not die; it was still there in the background, still taxing her. She took a breath. "I didn't think they could reach us here, but it's always best to be alert."

"How long have you been alert?"

She looked down the street. "A long time." It came out as a sigh as old as the city itself, weary, longing for rest after long years of conflict, yearning to go home to a place that no longer existed. The emptiness resonated with Wilson, and without thinking he reached out and brushed the back of her hand with his fingers, to offer what comfort he could.

In the moment of contact she became clear to him, as if the touch of her skin had somehow convinced the part of his mind that until then refused to accept her existence. He looked into her eyes, almost consumed by her pupils, and into the ancient spirit behind them. He saw quiet desperation there, fear of the unknown beyond this world mixed with a longing to sleep at last. It was the look of a soldier about to march into battle for the last time. There had been hope there as well, as she looked back into his own eyes. He felt naked, and pulled his tingling fingers away self-consciously.

She faded again, blending with the street, draped in shadows, but there lingered a feeling, almost known, a reminder of times when he had felt someone watching him.

"All right," he said.

"You will help?"

"I have one question first."

"Of course."

"What's your name?"

Her answer was a gasp. "My ... ?"

He held up his hands in a placating gesture. "The name you go by." Pavel had explained that the elves each had some sort of secret name, but why she would think he was asking for that was beyond him. To smooth things over he offered his own name in exchange. "My name is ... Herman." It was difficult for him to say; few people had ever heard the name Herman, not since he was a kid, and he planned to keep it that way. He was something like his clients in that respect.

"Of course," she said, collecting herself. She opened her mouth to speak and hesitated again. The look was back in her eye, measuring him from a place he could not understand. "Please call me Ivana," she said.

She shook his hand; her delicate bones felt brittle in his powerful, calloused mitt, her skin cool and smooth. Once again she became clearly visible to him with the contact, but she had prepared herself, and he didn't look her in the eye. The shadows on her face shifted as the corner of her mouth twitched upward. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Herman."

He smiled also. He was going to be able to work with her after all. He might even enjoy it. He looked at her graceful figure and wondered, briefly, what it would like to have sex with an elf.

Her look darkened as if she had read his mind. She opened her mouth to speak but paused, suddenly alert, listening to the night air. Wilson tensed, scanning the street, ready for anything but having no idea what to expect. After two endless minutes she released her breath and turned to him, stiff and formal again. "I am happy you have chosen remain with me -- with us -- but I must warn you one more time. Do not enter into this lightly. Vaclav is a cruel man. There are things worse than death."

"Not in the long run." He had given his word and he hoped she would not try too hard to talk him out of it; he was afraid she might succeed. "Do you really think I'm the guy to help you?" Any of you could kick my ass, he didn't add.

"Yes, for the same reason we are safe here right now. We cannot reach Vaclav. For my people, each of us has a place, a small piece of the world to which we are connected. We draw power from our place, including the power to keep away those whose place is somewhere else. In your people this connection to the world is much weaker; in you, it does not exist at all. You are a leaf floating on the stream, without place or purpose. I cannot even imagine what it is like to be you. You cross the sand without leaving a footprint; when you are gone, it will be as if you never existed. For us, that is much the same as if you didn't exist now. It is difficult for me even to look at you; you just fade away. But it is that very disconnectedness that renders the power of place useless against you."

Wilson wanted to disagree. He had a place. His place was right there, right then, doing his job. You don't argue with the elves, though. He shrugged instead. "I know where I am."

She opened her mouth to press the argument but stopped herself. After a moment she said, "Of course you have no idea."

"I guess not."

"But it's true. And that is where your value lies. You can go anywhere."

He knew that already. He was good with locks, good with security systems, and especially good at talking his way past both. More that that, though, the reason he could go anywhere was there was nothing holding him back. No ties, no regrets. If the job called him to another corner of the world, that was where he went. "What do you want me to do when I get there?"

"Kill Vaclav. Kill him ninety-nine ways."

The vehemence in her voice caught Wilson off-guard. The expression itself was no surprise -- the elves were big on that number. He didn't understand their numbering system; it was some sort of combination of base nine and base eleven, and it had a special symbol for ninety-nine. Pavel tried explaining it once, but when he started talking about resonance and beat frequencies Wilson had held up his hands in surrender.

He tried to make light of her comment, to calm her fierce expression. "Won't he be dead after I kill him the first way?"

"Probably not."

She was not joking. Wilson digested that. He didn't know much about his clients, but no other humans even knew they existed. He had learned to accept that the impossible was everyday life for them. "How many times has he been killed before?"

"We keep our numbers secret, but for him probably not that many at all. He lets others do his fighting for him." Her voice held a note of distaste. Wilson didn't point out that she was doing the same thing now, hiring him.

"So I have to kill him ninety-plus times."

"Ways. You can't kill one of us the same way twice."

"I don't think he's going to sit still while I experiment."

"No, he won't. Nor will his followers. They are ... dedicated."

He wondered what she had decided against saying. "Hit and run, I guess," he said, "Ninety-nine times." She better be telling the truth about me being hard to see, he thought, or I'm dead. He was no more attached to life than to anything else, but he was in no hurry to die, either. Why, then, was he doing this?

His rubbed his fingers together, where they still tingled from his contact with her.

He would do his job, and if this was his last job then that's just the way it was. She faded to almost nothing as he severed his last tenuous connections with the world and accepted that he would soon die. The pattern she had traced on his back was growing, becoming more complex, as if she was still adding to it. Perhaps she was.

A breeze brushed his cheek, an almost-touch, and he caught a scent, faint and feminine and exotic, yet earthy at the same time, blending with the smell of wet stones and ancient wisdom. The scent faded and he knew he was alone.

* * *

A note was waiting for him the following morning. Her handwriting was simple and precise, almost blocky. It didn't seem ... elf-like. He would have expected something grand and floral.

The content of the note matched the writing, simple and lacking any embellishments. "Tonight, same place, prepare list of requirements." The map living on his back had already told him that. He struck a match and put flame to the note. As the fire consumed the paper he glimpsed a tiny mark that had been on the back of the page, but it was gone before he could make it out.

It was a beautiful day, one of the first warm days of the summer; he felt the spirits of the city lift, but his own mood remained gray. He had business to attend to with specialists who could provide any weapon imaginable if the price was right.

He put on shorts and a loud shirt; a shopping bag and a camera completed his disguise. Just one of the swarm, perhaps a bigger mosquito than most, but no more significant.

Mick was easy to find if you knew where to look. Wilson sat next to him in the little cafe. "Good to see you, mate," Mick said, shaking his hand enthusiastically. "Judging by the dreadful outfit, you must be here on business." Mick scooped the pack of smokes off the table and lit one with the stub of the previous cigarette. The ashtray was full. He offered the pack to Wilson.

"No thanks," he said. "Trying to cut down."

Mick laughed. "Oh, dear, don't tell me you want to live forever, now."

Wilson shook his head. "Client. The smell bothers her."

Mick laughed again. "Must be a big one."

"They're a quirky bunch." Time to change the subject. "What do you have that's toxic as hell?"

Instinctively Wilson had lowered his voice, but Mick was without caution. He gave Wilson a wicked smile. "You need to poison her husband, then?"

"I need something that doesn't take much, and works fast."

"Not a problem. I can get my hands on just the thing."

"How many different ones can you get?"

He pursed his lips. "What's your budget?"

"Unlimited."

That word changed things. Mick looked around the cafe, discovering caution. "There are some substances, some really tricky things, that are dangerous to handle, that would make every government on the planet very, very, nervous to know you had."

Wilson nodded. "I don't need much of any single one," he said, "but I need the variety pack."

She was waiting for him this time, even though he was early. As he approached the meeting point she was little more than a shadow, just a trick of the eye. He could see her when she shifted, but when she was still she vanished into the weathered masonry. His hand twitched toward his pocket, where cigarettes should have been. Not nerves, just nicotine withdrawal. He stopped a few paces away, afraid he would step on her.

"How are you tonight?" he said.

His eye caught motion as she whirled his direction. "Oh!" He voice came from far away, from the graves of the men who had first raised the Old Town. He stepped forward tentatively, remembering where she had been. He held out his hand, hoping that by making contact he would be able to see her again. He braced himself, closing his mind, dreading the intimacy of that first contact.

He almost poked her in the eye. Tentatively she took his hand and he felt the connection again as they slid together into some place between their two worlds.

Ivana got straight to business, as if their conversation the previous day had never been interrupted. "One good thing," she said, "is that since he has almost never been killed, almost anything will work. If we keep careful track of the ways you use, we can be sure each attack will work."

And after I get killed the next people will be able to continue, Wilson thought. He knew she was thinking the same thing.

She was looking at where their hands touched, avoiding eye contact. He looked at her hair, long and blue-black, flowing in waves, and he looked at her slender hands, almost skeletal, but most of the time he looked up and down the street in a pretense of vigilance.

"What's the deal with this guy, anyway? What makes him so bad?"

"He wants the Earth just for our kind. No, Not even that. For himself. The rest of us, he would enslave. Your kind he would eliminate from the Earth entirely."

"Could he do that?"

"I doubt it. There are so many of you. That has always been your protection. By the sheer force of your teeming numbers you have always been able to overwhelm us if it ever came to that. That is why we are so secretive. But don't underestimate Vaclav. While he might not succeed, he and his followers could certainly kill millions upon millions of your kind first. He certainly could wipe you off this continent, where his center of power lies."

Wilson tried to imagine Europe depopulated, but it was too enormous for him to grasp, just a number without context. "What about your people?"

"Vaclav is very powerful, and he holds the True Names of many Elves. When he calls on them, they will have no choice but to follow. We don't even know which of our comrades we can trust."

"How'd he get all those names?"

"Your race does not have a monopoly on folly." She spoke with bitterness rather than anger. "We have always been warriors, fighting and killing each other. There aren't as many of us anymore, though. Vaclav argued that if we didn't do something drastic the entire race faced extinction. He convinced many of us to put their names in his trust, as the only way to save elvenkind."

"So we have to kill him before roll call." If he could somehow manage to kill Vaclav once a day, it would still take three months. The elf would act before that.

"We have to try," she said.

He glanced her direction and accidentally made eye contact. Her irises were a thin ring of blue around black oceans. An image sprang into his mind of its own accord. "What was that symbol on the back of the note you sent?"

She blinked and looked away. "I'm sorry about that," she said.

"What was it?"

She colored. "Just a superstition. A sort of charm." Wilson didn't press further. They stood in silence for a few minutes, both turned inward. He was quietly inventing new ways to kill members of her race when she said, "It was the number one hundred." She looked back at him, and where their hands touched it felt warmer. The fear was back in her eyes, and with it the weariness.

A dark suspicion grew in him. "How many times have you been killed?"

She didn't answer right away. "It's not the number of times."

"How many ways?"

"We keep that secret." She drew back further into the shadows, her eyes black hollows in her pale, elusive face, hiding a larger truth, something that frightened her. "If it will help, I will go with you as far as I can."

She was at ninety-eight, Wilson was sure. She would crash Vaclav's gates until they found the ninety-ninth way. They didn't grow old, the elves, but Wilson had never known about this countdown, slower but so much more certain than his own birthdays. What did death mean to folk who lived so long? Ivana could live a long, long, time yet if she played it safe.

"Maybe you should retire," he said.

Ivana looked at him sharply, a retort on her lips, but she saw him, and saw his understanding. "It is not our way," she said softly.

* * *

It was a clear night, and the bridge was crowded with tourists despite the late hour. Across the span of the Vltava the throng milled, oblivious to the cold judgment of forgotten kings brooding down on them stone-faced as they drifted between the buskers and the pickpockets.

Wilson and Ivana stood at the east end of Charles Bridge, at the edge of the Old Town, holding hands. Without the contact, she simply ceased to exist for him now.

She could go no further; whatever it was that kept Vaclav on his side kept her on hers.

"Goodbye," he said. He took a step toward the bridge. Toward Vaclav.

"Goodbye," she said. He tried to take another step but she held on to him. The words came out of her in a rush. "When we are ninety-eight, we are called d'hara. It means 'one-life' and it means 'lost'. It is the same word we use for your kind. With that name we become you." She vanished when she released his hand. He let his arm fall to his side and turned to face the bridge.

He pulled his coat around him and hoped that the shotgun wouldn't show. Ivana hated the weapon he carried. It was short, for indoor work, but the two barrels were unusually wide. He had two shells, and every government on Earth would be nervous to learn what was inside them. Even Mick had been nervous, delivering the tightly sealed aluminum canister. "Handle with care," he had said. "This is some pretty nasty stuff." "I hope so." "We made them to your specifications. Weird shit. Remember: you do not want to be found with these. They are looking for whoever has this stuff, and if they found you there would not be a trial, you know what I mean? You would vanish. Now, my friend, you have made me a very rich man, and it is time for me to retire in luxury. I don't imagine I will be seeing you again."

As Wilson approached the far end of the bridge he felt the change. The spirits whispering up from the stone had a different voice, angrier and more urgent. He realized then that Old Town had spoken with Ivana's voice, and that its shadows had been her shadows, and the breeze drifting through the twisted lanes had been her breath. She had given ninety-eight lives to bring the ancient city through a millennium of strife, and there would be no one to protect it when she was gone. The current invasion of gradual indignities would be the last.

He had always done his job before. This time he knew why.

A pair of kids were lounging outside the main door of the building, smoking. Wilson could barely see them at all, even when he concentrated, but the tingling, inward-shining lines on his back communicated the guards' location. He could feel Ivana's fingers there yet, warning of danger, filled with fear.

Wilson slipped into the building unseen. He climbed the stairs, passing closed doors and knowing that beyond them were more elves. Vaclav's slaves, ready to destroy humanity or die trying.

I'm not so different, Wilson thought as he drifted up to the top level. He was a ghost, a spirit of death who would himself soon die. He would kill Vaclav in some number of ways, but there were others there, and they would only have to kill him once.

When you are gone, it will be as if you never existed. Better that way. Wanting someone to be crying after you when you're gone is sadistic; he disliked people who found comfort in life knowing how many hearts they would break when they died. He was going to take the side door, slip out unnoticed, and not add to the suffering of humanity. No one would notice, no one would care, and he would be done.

The map led him to the kitchen on the top floor. His quarry was sitting at the table, completely invisible. Wilson pulled back into the corner of the room and raised his weapon. He sighted on the back of the chair across the table and fired.

At the front of the charge were a dozen sharp-edged metal fragments, designed to rend skin and flesh. They were not intended to be lethal, however, not even once. Behind those were one hundred tiny balls.

When the blast hit Vaclav's gut the elf slid into Wilson's vision. Hunter and hunted, they watched each other. Vaclav looked at the hole in his belly, and at his blood sprayed against the wall. He looked back up at Wilson. "What the hell?" He flashed a bloodstained grin as the gaping wound began repairing itself, then he lurched as the first toxin hit him. "What the hell?" he asked again, with less confidence.

The others in the kitchen, visible now, were pulling themselves together and grabbing anything at hand that could be used as a weapon. Wilson spoke loudly. "There are one hundred different poisons in there. One hundred."

All in the kitchen froze. They were warriors, but they had been counting down their lives with the rest of their race, confident they still had plenty to go, and faced with having their entire account erased at once they hesitated. The weapon Wilson held made them mortal, just like him, but Wilson was used to the idea of dying in a single moment. Vaclav slumped, dying again and again, his ledger ticking away. Wilson wondered how many of the poisons he had chosen would work on elves. Some had little chance of working at all, he knew; he had been scrounging at the end, despite the cornucopia of death Mick had supplied. Wilson stood back in the corner, trying to point the gun at all of them at the same time.

"I'm too late," Vaclav said, eyeing the weapon. "We should have wiped you all out long ago." He hunched over, then straightened himself with effort. He sat, erect and proud, thin and pale and regal. Wilson looked into the eyes of the other, no longer vague, no longer elusive, now luminous and hard as glass. Wilson didn't need anyone to explain the Power of the Hunter that bound the two of them now, for as long as they lived. "It was unwise of them to enlist the aid of humans," Vaclav said. "They will not be able to put the butterfly back in the cocoon."

Wilson understood. The weapon he held erased the greatest advantage the elves had in their struggle for survival. "You forced their hand," he said.

"Do you know how long it's been since an elf has had a child?" Vaclav asked. "More than eighty years. Our race dies." He closed his eyes and pain wracked his features. Another life gone. He calmed himself and took a breath. "I believe that was the last of the agents in your cocktail that can harm me." Vaclav opened his eyes and looked across the gulf between the living and the dead. "You have fallen short," he said.

Wilson looked back and saw the echo of the look he sometimes caught in Ivana's eye. "I came close," he said.

"Take him!" snapped Vaclav.

They came at him in a flurry. He pointed his weapon directly into the face of a graceful young elf but could not bring himself to pull the trigger. Then they were on him. He fended off a knife but took a deep cut on his arm.

"Alive!" Vaclav called out. "We must know what the toxins are, and the counteragents. We must learn who among them knows of this weapon, so we can eliminate them as well. Our guest has a long and unpleasant life ahead of him."

Reluctantly his minions stopped. Dizzy from shock and blood loss, Wilson propped himself up in the corner. Vaclav tried to stand, but fell back heavily, still weak. "You will soon be wishing you were dead." he said from his chair.

"I'm already dead."

Vaclav nodded. "You, I think, were born dead. That would explain your presence here. But that won't stop you from feeling pain."

Wilson struggled to remain standing while the elves surrounded him. He held his bleeding arm but felt his life pouring out between his fingers. He willed it to flow faster.

The kitchen was taking on a mosaic-like quality, composed of little pieces that didn't quite meet. In that jumbled puzzle he imagined Ivana walking in, unseen by the others. He imagined her raising a frying pan and smashing it over Vaclav's head. He imagined the elf slumping lifeless over the table.

"Ninety-nine," he heard her say in his dream. "Head smashed in."

Somewhere far away there was a roar as Vaclav's power over the place loosened and dissipated, swirling back down into the Earth. Ivana was still there, holding the frying pan defensively in one hand and a wicked knife in the other, facing the other elves. Wilson slid to the floor, into a pool of his own blood. There seemed to be a lot of it. The room began to fill with even more elves -- cops, Wilson knew, able to enter now that Vaclav was not there to keep them out. There was the sound of a scuffle and a woman's pained cry, but he couldn't raise his head to watch. He hoped she was all right, even while he struggled to remember who it was he was worried about. There was no face, just a touch on his skin, a tingling in his fingertips and figure on his back. Not a map anymore, but a symbol he had seen once before. The number one hundred. Ninety-nine plus one. An elf and a human. Of the hundred lives, however, there were only two left, and it felt like it was going to be just one soon.

Hell of a time to find something to live for.

He felt a touch on his cheek and she was there and he saw her exactly, completely. Every hair in her eyebrows, every speckle in her eye, the smoothness of her forehead broken by a line that told of concern and fear. He felt where her hands touched his face, where her breasts were pressed against him. He saw all of her, and he saw her, something outside of all those parts, a spirit, alone and afraid, resolute, powerful. And with the eyes of that other spirit he saw himself as well, and where their spirits touched there was fire.

"Don't die," she said.

"OK." He wasn't sure about that, though.

She cradled his head in her arms, rocking him gently, and he almost forgot the pain.

"I'm glad you're here," he said.

"It is my place. By your side. That is how I could get in here when you called to me. You gave me the power."

An elf was bandaging his arm while another seemed to be amusing himself with Wilson's ribcage; it felt like he was poking a hot iron into it. Wilson didn't remember being cut there, but it explained his weakness.

"I have a place," he said, but it was too complicated to explain, and he wasn't so sure what it meant anymore himself. Instead, he moved his hand up her spine, between her shoulder blades, and with a trembling finger he traced the numeral 2. Two d'hara, here and gone in the blink of an eye. As his finger traced the figure he felt it come to life, shining through her and into him.

She bent over him; her hair brushing his face. His vision was dark at the edges; he was looking down a tunnel that was quickly collapsing. Her scent filled his world. Her lips brushed his ear, her voice was silent. "Herman," she said, "Ivana is my True Name."

-- Jerry Seeger

Article © Jerry Seeger. All rights reserved.
Published on 2007-04-16
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