Illumination 8.6: The Castle of Thorns

He would catch them.

Jehane closed her eyes, clinging to Malachi’s shoulder. She tried to shut out the jostling, the wind and the cold, and the deep and hollow fear. These were all things that would kill her. Instead, she listened to the shadow music. She let Malachi’s windsong flow through her. It was music. She could dance to it, if only she learned how to translate the music through her body. But it was hard to concentrate when she couldn’t stand on her own two feet, feel the music as it traveled from her fingers and the top of her head down through her gut and into her feet. It was hard to learn to move herself when she was being moved.

Malachi hadn’t fought Tainter, hadn’t let Tainter push him. He was trying to save her from Tainter, and not by cutting her throat. The knowledge sent a warmth through Jehane’s body. She heard the undercurrents in the music: the loneliness, the bitterness, the hunger. The fear and the distortion. The silent spaces and the night sky, the cloak of blindness that he sometimes wore. She felt his breath through her body, knew the rhythm of his heart and the way his long legs stretched and pushed as he channeled the Absolute Focus Field.

She breathed, “I can keep up.”

Instantly, without breaking his stride, he changed his grip and let her slide down to the ground. She moved with him, his perfect reflection, her eyes open but unseeing. She relied entirely on the music; it told her when to jump, when to turn. She trusted him to see for her, and he trusted her to do exactly what she said she would.

Behind them, Tainter howled. She couldn’t listen to his twangy music. She shut it out.

Malachi seemed to know where he was going. Hand in hand, they ran across a narrow bridge over another road, just wide enough for the two of them. They passed into a building-dense area, where the ground sloped up to meet the rooftops. Another bridge led between buildings, this one wider. It had been swept clear of snow at some point since the snowfall, and halfway across, Malachi pulled Jehane off. They landed heavily in the piles of dirty swept snow, which was colder and deeper than the snow in the plaza and on the rooftops.

They stumbled into the shadows beneath the bridge and Malachi wrapped both his arms around Jehane, pulling her close. The chord of the cloak of blindness thrummed through her. It overlaid the pounding steps of Tainter as he passed overhead. Malachi buried his nose in Jehane’s hair, his breath warming the side of her face.

The footsteps slowed. Tainter’s muttering voice drifted down from the bridge. It grew louder as he stuck his head over the edge of the bridge. Then he flipped himself over the bridge and dangled for a moment, before cursing and pulling himself up again.

Malachi’s mouth moved lower, his nose brushing her ear, his lips brushing across her cheek. For a moment, they were perfectly still. Then, still half-lost in Malachi’s windsong, Jehane oriented herself toward him, made herself his reflection.

Her mouth brushed his. The electrifying sensation yanked her awareness back into her own body. As she realized what she’d done, his grip on her tightened and his mouth opened against hers, returning and deepening her semi-intentional kiss with a hungry desperation. She clung to him, unable to keep afloat against the undertow of his need. It was like something had woken up inside him. His hands moved against her face, her hair, her back. His mouth was gentle but insistent, and he kissed her until she felt like her entire body was a candleflame arching toward him.

Then he broke the kiss, resting his cheek against her forehead. A great, sobbing gasp escaped him. Jehane untangled one hand from his shirt and slid it around his back, lowering the other from where it had curled against his neck so that she could hold him against her. Neither wrist had the red chain. She realized this, then wished she hadn’t.

Malachi drew in another ragged breath, and she held the heat of him to her. He pressed his face into her hair again, then drew back just enough to say, “He killed her. Tainter killed Emily.”

“I’m so sorry,” Jehane whispered.

He tightened his arms around her again, and she realized that he probably hadn’t touched anybody without violence since Emily had died. No comfort, no companionship save for monsters and the worst of memories. How could they blame him for breaking?

After a long moment like that, he pulled away and looked at her. There was a spark in his dark eyes that hadn’t been there before. It was the gaze of the silent boy she’d known so briefly, but older, and much, much sadder. He brushed his fingers across her face, then pulled further away. His gaze transferred to his unbound wrist.

“No,” said Jehane, taking the wrist in both hands. “Stay with me. Come with me. Don’t go back.”

“He killed her,” Malachi repeated. “He and Hatherly. They made me into… this.” He opened his hand against hers.

“You’re you. You were you long before they found you. I know.”

The corners of his mouth turned up briefly. “I have to go back. To show them what they did. To take from them…”

“Revenge?”

“Reclamation.” He wrapped long fingers around hers. “Jehane. I will take you back to your friends.” Then he turned away, and pulled her after him.

 

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