Look who’s back with another blog post in a (relatively) timely fashion?! Yes, dreams do come true. I know y’all are excited.
I wrote this ficlet in autumn of 2016 and promptly forgot about it. Because that’s how I roll. It’s set during the final few chapters of Catalyst Moon: Incursion (book 1 of my series), which you can buy right here!
Note: There are probably some spoilers if you haven’t read Incursion, but nothing egregious. If you haven’t read the novel, I say read this anyway. Hopefully, it’ll pique your interest. 😉
Kali leaned back on her hands, closed her eyes, and savored the day. A cool breeze rustled the nearby trees and rifled through her hair and tunic, and the sunlight warmed her skin. It was the afternoon after she and Stonewall had left Oreion and the Jessamin Inn, and they had just finished the meal the innkeeper had sent along.
Sighing, Kali pulled up her hooded cloak to cover her hair, and laid back so she could watch the spun-cotton clouds drift across the pure blue sky. They had many hours on the road ahead of them, still, so she resolved to squeeze every last bit of pleasure from this moment.
Speaking of pleasure…
She cracked one eye open to glance at her companion. Stonewall sat beside her, sipping the last of his honey-cider as he sharpened one of his daggers, his gaze constantly darting to the road, the treeline, the meadow all around them.
When he caught her looking at him, he raised a brow. “What?”
“It’s too nice a day to work,” she said, fluttering a hand at his dagger and whetstone. “Just relax and enjoy yourself.”
“We’ve been attacked, kidnapped, and chased one too many times on this journey,” he replied. “I can’t drop my guard now.”
“We’re nearly at Whitewater City.”
He shook his head and continued running the whetstone over his dagger’s edge. “Doesn’t matter. I’ve a duty.”
“Surely,” she smiled at him, “your duty can wait for a few minutes.” She spread out her cloak and patted it invitingly. “Come watch the sky with me.”
Stonewall squinted up at the clouds, then looked down at her. Just when she thought he’d argue, he sheathed his dagger, set aside his whetstone, and settled down beside her. The cloak wasn’t nearly large enough to accommodate both of them, but he didn’t seem to mind that most of his armored body rested on the drying evergrass that blanketed the meadow. Kali shifted her hips so that they touched his, and leaned her head against his shoulder. His gear, while bulky, was not unpleasant to lie against like this; she couldn’t suppress a thrill of joy when he reached for her hand and clasped it once, firmly, before tucking his free arm beneath his head.
Cicadas buzzed nearby, singing beneath an intermittent chorus of meadowlarks and quails; if Kali closed her eyes and concentrated, she could hear the faintest thrum of rushing water. If she leaned her cheek so that it rested a little higher on Stonewall’s armor, she could make out the soft, steady drum of his heart.
He shifted as if turning his head to speak to her, then swore. “Ea’s tits and teeth!”
The next thing Kali knew, she’d been knocked to the ground for Stonewall had scrambled to his feet, frantically twisting and shaking as he batted at his head, chest, arms, and legs with both hands, swearing nonstop. Dazed and a little irritated, Kali sat up and glared at him. “What in the void’s gotten into you?”
He didn’t answer, but shuddered visibly as he continued to brush himself off, pausing every so often to examine his gear from all possible angles.
Kali bit back a laugh and tried again. “Stonewall? Have you been possessed by a demon or is this some sentinel dance routine I’m unaware of?”
He shook his head, his chest heaving. “Neither. There was…” He trailed off, flushing, and looked away. “Nothing. Never mind.”
“Are you certain?”
He gritted his teeth and came back over to her, though he didn’t sit. “We should get moving.”
“We just got here.”
“We’ve eaten and rested. It’s time to move out.”
“Hmm.” She pretended to consider, then smiled at him. “No. Not until you tell me why you had such a fit.”
“I didn’t have a fit,” he protested. “I just…” He sighed. “There was…something on me. It caught me off guard. I’m fine now. Let’s go.”
“What sort of ‘something?’”
He sighed again and glanced around the meadow – surely he knew they were alone! – then knelt beside her. “It was a spider, all right? I felt it crawling on my head.”
She stared at him. “A spider?”
He scowled. “Does it matter?”
“Are you…” Mirth built within her like a soap-bubble waiting to breach the surface of a tub. She bit her tongue in an effort not to laugh. “Are you all right?”
“I told you,” his scowl deepened and he shoved his helmet back on, “I’m fine. But we should get going.”
She nodded, but did not rise immediately. “Yesterday, you faced three demons on your own. This was a spider. Was it a really big spider, or…?” She trailed off at the look on his face, and sighed. “Very well. Let’s go.”
He helped her to her feet. They collected their belongings and made their way across the meadow to their horse, whom Stonewall had tethered to tree so she could graze freely. Kali was silent as Stonewall repacked their supplies and checked the horse’s tack, before he offered her a hand getting into the saddle.
She smiled at him as she took his hand, then gasped in horror and pointed to his helmet. “Seren’s light…there it is!”
He swore as he ripped off the helmet and chucked it across the meadow, startling the horse and a pair of quails who’d been roosting in the grass. Kali didn’t see where they flew, for she was doubled over, overcome with laughter.
Stonewall grunted, though she caught a hint of a smile on his face. “You think you’re funny, do you?”
“Oh, no,” she gasped, swiping tears from her eyes. “That was the biggest spider I’ve ever seen! Really! No wonder you were so frightened.”
“I wasn’t frightened. Just startled.”
“Startled,” she repeated, nodding sagely. “Of course. Well, thank the stars you got rid of it so vigorously. That ought to teach it not to ambush unsuspecting sentinels in the future.”
He sighed and took her hand in his. “I don’t like spiders,” he said in all seriousness.
She chuckled. “Are you certain?”
“I’m not afraid of them,” he added quickly. “But I don’t like their…legs. They have too many legs. It’s unnatural.”
“Right.” She used his grip for leverage and pulled herself closer to his face, urging him to kiss her. To her pleasure, Stonewall responded beautifully, capturing her mouth with his, casting aside all thoughts of spiders or leaving this perfect place.
Until she fluttered her fingertips on the back of his head in an imitation of a spider’s walk, and he nearly jumped out of his armor. “Kali!”
“Another one!” she managed between laughs. “This sodding place is full of them! Almost makes me wish for demons.”
“I wouldn’t go that far,” he grumbled. But his frown fell away as he studied her, and by the time he took her hands – both of them – in his, he was smiling. “You’ve caused me no end of trouble on this journey, do you know that?”
“Me?” She raised both brows in her best approximation of innocence. “Why, Serla Sentinel, I don’t know what you mean.”
“I’m sure,” he said dryly.
She leaned closer to him. “I’m not sure I understand. We should stay here a bit longer so you can explain.”
Stonewall glanced at the road, then back at her, and his smile broadened. “I suppose that’s the only fair thing to do.”
“Indeed, it is. In fact, I–”
She said nothing more, for he’d kissed her into silence.