Libra scanned the grey room, now laid bare. All his worldly possessions were in the pack at his side, and the remaining furniture seemed lifeless without them. He sighed, and made his way down the stairs, where his father was waiting.
“I love you, dad,” he said. He didn’t know what else he could say.
The shorter man grabbed Libra in a bear hug. “You’ll do alright,” he said. “You’re just like your mother. I know you can make a life for yourself in the Northlands.”
They broke the hug.
Libra’s father looked uncertain. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come with you? We could have a fresh start.”
“Dad, I’m eighteen. I should be moving out anyway. Besides, there’s no reason for you to give up your life just because I’m a dhampir.”
This was just a sample of an argument they’d had a thousand times over, and one that Libra had won every time.
“Well, good luck son. And know that you’ll always be welcome here. If you’re ever inclined to visit…”
“I will.”
Libra walked out into the air of the cool morning. The sun wasn’t yet up, and the city of Deathsbane was dark and quiet. Libra walked the streets he’d walked every day since he was a boy, the streets that had slowly but surely become hostile to him, and enjoyed, for a moment, the privacy of the early hours. He knew this would be the last time that he would walk these streets for a long while, perhaps forever. When he reached the wall, and the gate, he shivered. The doors slowly creaked open, and he felt as if they were protecting arms that no longer cared for him, and desired to throw him out.
“Goodbye,” he muttered. He spoke not just to the city, or his home, but to the safety of the paladin-ruled civilization, as he stepped out into the Northlands. He knew it was the only place he could go. The only place for a monster to hide.
* * *
Charlotte opened her eyes slowly, processing what she’d seen. “He’s coming.”
“Are you sure?” Lucien, her cousin, asked.
She glared across the trees at him. “Of course I’m sure. You’d be sure too, if you’d learn how to use the Convergence for something other than listening to stupid orders.”
Lucien scowled, but said nothing. They were supposed to be subtle today, so he didn’t want to risk an open fight.
Charlotte could feel all this from Lucien, coming at her like a wave. The Convergence, a nickname for the vampires’ hive mind, was a very useful tool, and she was the only one of the five young vampires in the trees who could use it to its full extent. With it, she could feel the emotions, and, sometimes, the location of anyone related to her. Lucien, the brainless goat, just used it for basic one-way communication, which, in her opinion, was the same as not using it at all.
“So, why do we care about this guy, anyway?” Emily asked.
“Who cares?” Lucien said. “We have orders, and we’re going to follow them.”
“Uuuuuuuugh,” Charlotte groaned, turning upside down on her branch. “You’re such a tool.”
“Nobody asked you,” Lucien said, while Emily simultaneously asked, “What do you think?”
Charlotte smiled at Lucien, baring her fangs. “Okay, here’s what I think: Gramps is, like, ten thousand years old right?”
There were murmurs of assent from the surrounding vampires.
“So imagine you’ve seen the humans grow stronger, change the world around them more, and wage wars. Now, imagine you’re crazy. What do you do?”
Charlotte waited for an answer to her question, but none came.
“Come on, guys. I’m pulling the narrative here. Anyway, I think he’s building an army. A bunch of guys like numb-nuts over there.”
Lucien glowered.
“And, of course, dhampirs aren’t affected by holy water, or the sun—“
“Or garlic,” Emily said.
“Right. And Libra’s the only living dhampir, isn’t he? At least the only one related to us.”
“But why doesn’t—“
“Positions!” someone hissed. Charlotte rolled her eyes. They’d been in position for two hours.
Libra stepped into the clearing below her.
* * *
Libra knew something was in the trees as soon as he stepped into the clearing. Mostly because they spoke to him.
“Hello, cousin.”
Looking up, he saw at least five pairs of eyes glowing in the trees above him, their owners well camouflaged and balanced catlike on the branches.
He gritted his teeth. Vampires.
“We’d like you to come with us. There are some important people who want to speak with you.”
The voice traveling down to him was filled with false cheerfulness and false politeness. It reminded Libra of the guards who’d become an increased nuisance in his life. More, the voice sounded young. For all its fake layers, it sounded less sure of itself than the voice of an ancient evil monster.
“You know, I think I’ll just stay here, if it’s all the same to you.”
The voice now betrayed barely held in anger. “Perhaps you misheard me–”
“No, I heard you, you overgrown leech. I just don’t intend to go anywhere with a bunch of flying parasites.” He put on a broad smile. “Cousin.”
He could see the shapes in the trees tense, and got the impression that an unheard conversation was going on overhead. The kind of conversation, he thought, between someone who wants very badly to start a fight, and someone who wants to stop him.
“Look, I know you’re used to prey that’s weaker than you, but we’re on even ground here.”
“We outnumber you five to one,” the voice retorted.
Aha, a number. “That may be, but I’ve got this sword,” Libra said, drawing the aforementioned sword. “Now, I’m sure the five of you could kill me, but I’m also pretty sure I could take out at least one of you. You all seem quite young. We all have immortality ahead of us. Is this really a wise decision?”
There was silence in the trees above.
“The sun will be up soon,” Libra said, as if it wasn’t really worth mentioning.
* * *
Charlotte smiled to herself as the others silently argued about what to do. She was pleasantly surprised to learn she was related to someone who wasn’t mind numbingly boring. She knew what would happen next, too. She could feel it in the minds of the other vampires. They were about to grudgingly leave. Well, that was fine by her. It saved her the trouble of leaving while the others fought Libra, and that would have been hard to explain when they got back home.
They were flying back, dead silent, when Charlotte burst out laughing.
The next night, Charlotte flew low over the forest that spread over the southern part of the Northlands. Since she was the disappointment of the family, she was the only one not to get punished for letting Libra scare them off. She was probably the only one who realized that the elders only had as much power as she allowed them to, as well.
A light caught her eye, and she landed in a nearby tree. She saw Libra poking at a small fire with his sword. He looked lost and tired. He didn’t have the confident look in his eye that she’d noticed that morning.
“You can come out,” he said, quietly. “I know someone’s there.”
Charlotte hesitated, but only for a moment, before dropping down near the campfire. Libra watched her like she was a rabid dog.
“Hi,” she said. Then, realizing that wouldn’t be enough, she added, “I’m Charlotte.”
Libra offered his hand. “Hi, Charlotte. I’m Libra.”
Charlotte shook it, vaguely knowing that was something humans did.
“So,” Libra said, “were you part of my welcome party this morning?”
“How’d you know?”
“Today was the first time I’ve been stalked by someone in a tree.”
“Oh. Right.”
Libra turned to scan the trees around them. “So how many more of you are there?”
“Just me,” Charlotte said, sitting down by the fire.
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Grandpa lost interest in you when he realized you weren’t going to be his half-vamp puppet.”
Libra turned toward her. “Grandpa?”
“Yeah, you know. Looks like a bat. Had a couple kids a thousand years ago. Kinda has an ‘evil overlord’ thing going for him.”
“I like to call us a murder. Like crows.”
“Okay, murder is led by some ancient vampire that you call grandpa?”
“What? No, stupid. He is my grandpa. Yours too.”
“I think you’re a little confused, Char.”
Charlotte glared at him. “Your mother was Scarlett the Bloodthirsty, right?”
“She wasn’t–”
“We can argue about nicknames later. That was her, right?”
“Charlotte threw up her arms dramatically. “Welcome to the family, cuz. Careful, some of us bite.”
Libra just blinked at her.
“So, what’s for dinner?”
* * *
Libra’d never had much of a family, besides his father. The girl sitting by his campfire had sent his mind reeling.
“Um, dinner. Right. We’ve got…” he rummaged through his pack, “bread, cheese, and apples.”
Charlotte made a face. “You eat that stuff? What about the meat?”
Libra gestured to a bow on the ground. “Turns out I’m not very good at hunting.”
“Probably because you’re using a stupid bow,” Charlotte replied, taking a careful bite of bread. “Ew.”
Libra examined his cousin for the first time. She was wearing ragged clothes and no shoes. She looked like someone that would be begging for food on a street corner. He could see her toenails and fingernails, each bordering on claws. And while he was sure she’d had wings just a minute ago, they seemed to be gone now.
“So…vampires don’t eat bread, then?”
“This one doesn’t. I bet my dad does, sometimes. He’s nearly human.”
Libra sat down, placing his sword next to him. “Charlotte, why are you here?”
Charlotte shrugged. “I don’t know, I just…I don’t really get along with the family. I guess I kinda hoped we’d get along okay. After all, you’re the son of Scarlett the Bloodthirsty!”
Libra winced. “Please stop calling her that.”
“Sorry. I just always looked up to Aunt Scarlett.”
“Because she killed one hundred people in a single night?” Libra asked sullenly.
Charlotte took a moment to respond, and when she did, her voice was small and nervous. “Because she raised you for six years. When I was born, my mother tried…she tried to eat me.”
Libra swallowed. This conversation was really getting away from him.
“She was the only nurturing vampire I’ve ever heard of. It makes me believe that I could be more than what I am.”
Despite himself, Libra asked, “What are you?”
“You know what I am, Libra. I can see it in your eyes. I’m a monster.”
“Come on, Char, I’m sure you’re not–”
“I’ve murdered people. Lots of them. I just can’t help it. It’s too much. I can’t control it.”
As she burst into tears, Charlotte suddenly looked very young, and very lost. Libra, not knowing what else to do, held her close as she cried.
“Don’t worry about it, Char,” Libra said quietly. “I’m a monster, too.”
* * *
Charlotte wondered how much time had passed. Ten minutes? An hour? A year? She couldn’t believe how she’d collapsed in front of Libra, and she doubly couldn’t believe the…whatever amount of time…she’d just spent crying in his arms.
“Are you okay?”
It took Charlotte a moment to find her voice. “Yeah! Um, yeah, I’m good,” she said, pushing herself into an upright position.
They sat in awkward silence for a while.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Libra finally asked.
“No. Yes. I don’t know.” Charlotte sighed. “It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the others.”
“What others?”
“The other vampires. The murder. They don’t understand anything about this. They can’t even comprehend feeling bad for…feeding.”
“I’m sorry.”
“Sometimes I wish I could just run away, but where could I go? I mean, I can’t go out during the day, and the pack lives in the mountains. It’s really the best place for us.”
“I’ve got the opposite problem,” Libra replied. “I’m out here in this cold, empty country, with barely any food and next to no money. Almost makes me wish I’d gone with you guys this morning.”
“Please. You’d stick out like a sore thumb. I bet you can’t even fly.”
“Heh. True.”
Charlotte’s eyebrows shot up. “Man, I was joking. You can’t fly?”
“I don’t think you appreciate the strangeness of that question.”
“No way. You’re kidding. Show me your wings.”
“I don’t have wings.”
Charlotte let out a snort of laughter. “You’re so weird.”
The night sped past Charlotte and Libra as they talked more freely than either of them had in years. They had dinner, which Charlotte found horrible, but ate a bit of anyway. They spoke of paladins and vampires, of parents and grandparents, of friends and flight, and of themselves. Dawn seemed to come much too soon.
* * *
“Sophie, how do people get money?” Charlotte asked.
They were crouching on top of a wooden house waiting for an unwary passerby. Sophie was Charlotte’s third or fourth cousin. They were about the same age, and while they didn’t actively dislike each other, Charlotte felt disconnected with Sophie on a very base level. For instance, she had no interest in picking off drifters, which was Sophie’s favorite pass time.
“Who cares?” Sophie said. “We don’t need money.”
“Yeah, but suppose someone did? How would he get it?”
“How should I know? Do I look like a human to you?”
“Alright, alright. I was just curious.”
Sophie sighed and snatched something below them.
“You.” She said to the smelly, struggling man she now held. “How do you get money?”
The man was clearly not ready for this line of questioning. “I…play my fiddle.”
Charlotte wrinkled her nose. “For change?”
“Well, I didn’t say it was glamorous, miss nightmare creature.”
Sophie rolled her eyes. “Where would someone who isn’t a one legged scurvy-riddled drunk go to get money?”
The man pointed. “There’s a job board by the inn. Please don’t eat me.”
Sophie looked at him levelly. “Nobody’s that hungry.”
“Thanks!” Charlotte said, before kicking off and flying in the direction the man pointed.
“Hey!” Sophie called after her. “Did you just thank my food?”
“What is wrong with you lately?” Sophie said, landing beside Charlotte.
“All these are bounty hunting jobs,” Charlotte said.
“Hey, are you listening to me?”
“Someone could end up dead trying to hunt down these guys. There’s three murderers on here.”
“No, then.”
Charlotte tore off a piece of paper. “Look at this. There’s a rabid vampire loose around here.”
“Ugh. Those things are icky. They’re like mindless animals, the way they hunt.”
“Mindless animals, huh? How well do they fight?”
Sophie shrugged. “I’ve never gotten into a fight with one. They just act so unnatural. Doesn’t look like that one fights very well, though,” she said, gesturing to the picture. “It looks like a senile old man.”
“Great. Now, what’s all this about? Why are you obsessed with money and decrepit vampires?”
“Uh, my dad got me thinking about…both of those things.”
“Oh. That makes sense.”
* * *
It took some convincing to get Libra to agree to hunt down the rabid vampire, but between the bounty and Charlotte’s assurance that the monster would be weak compared to them, he decided he couldn’t say no.
It was early evening five days later when they finally tracked the thing to a farm.
“That,” Libra said, “is a very dry cow.”
“Ugh, how could that thing drink animal blood? Disgusting.”
“Well, it must have found something more appetizing. The other cows are fine.”
As if on cue, a scream tore across the sky.
Libra and Charlotte started running toward the farmhouse.
“Vampires can’t enter human homes, right?” Libra asked.
“Well, no, but you’d be surprised how often that’s not really an issue.”
As the farmhouse drew nearer, they could see the silhouette of the ancient vampire. He was holding something small. It was crying.
Libra didn’t really process what happened next, but before he knew it, he was in the air, soaring headlong into a flying monster, and snatching a baby out of its hand.
Charlotte was right behind him, delivering a kick to the vampire’s side as it turned to grab at Libra.
As the creature spiraled around in the air, Libra thrust the infant into Charlotte’s arms. “Get this thing to safety,” he said, drawing his sword. “Then hurry back.”
* * *
Charlotte floated, frozen, staring at the child in her arms. Libra hadn’t waited for an answer from her. He had flown off again, back into the fight. Her entire body shook as she held the soft, warm, delicious looking baby. She bit her tongue. She wanted to return the thing to its parents, hell, she wanted to throw it away. What she did not want, what she couldn’t allow herself to want, was to feed.
She felt a ghost pain in her neck. Libra had been bitten. She snapped back to reality and quickly landed.
“Here’s your kid I gotta go,” she said, practically throwing the child at a very anxious looking couple.
* * *
Libra dove and slashed at the vampire, but it grabbed his sword, unaware or uncaring that the blade bit into his hand. With a twist, the sword fell onto the ground, and the vampire bit down on Libra’s neck. Libra tried to pull away, but the thing grabbed on and held him close, squeezing him like a vice as his blood was drained.
The two of them were very distracted, then, when Charlotte pulled the old vampire’s head backwards, hard enough to break the neck of a human.
Libra fell like a stone, landing dangerously close to his sword.
Charlotte and the other vampire fell like two entangled birds, each trying to get the upper hand on the other, until their grappling in the air turned to wrestling on the ground.
Libra’s head was fuzzy, and he was sure he’d lost a lot of blood, but he pulled his sword out of the ground and stumbled toward his cousin.
Charlotte was doing better than Libra had been, but the other vampire was stronger than she’d expected, and it had been too long since she last ate. The creature grabbed her neck and pinned her to the ground, although she was able to catch its other arm before he thrust it into her heart.
Desperate to be rid of this eerie monster, she kicked at its stomach and knocked it away.
Libra raised his sword and thrust it into the creature as it fell backward.
“That was unsportsmanlike of me,” he said, collapsing to the ground.
* * *
Charlotte and Libra met the next evening, just outside of a small town.
“So how’d it go?” Charlotte asked. “Did you get the bounty? Can you buy food now?”
Libra hugged her. “I can, thanks to my favorite cousin. You know, I might try more of this bounty hunting thing.”
Charlotte gave him a pained look. “You almost died last night.”
“Yeah, but I’m fine now. Richer, too. Plus, we saved a family.”
Charlotte smiled. “I guess we did, didn’t we?”
“Certainly we did! Now, there’s something I wanted to ask you.”
“What’s that?”
“Half of this money should be yours. At least. I know you said vampires don’t use currency, but there must be something I could get you to show how grateful I am. So, if you could have anything, what would it be?”
“Well, there is one thing I’ve always wanted…”
“Anything. You’ve earned it.”
“There’s a place north of here. Far north. They say that in the winter, it’s always night, but that the sky lights up with beautiful colors. I’ve always wanted to go there, to get away from all this, to see the endless night. Could we?”
“Well, I was planning to kind of wander for a while. It’d be nice to have a direction.”
“Great! Um, one problem, though. I’ve always been afraid to travel that far. I can’t get caught out in the sun.”
“Hmm…okay, I think I’ve got a solution. It’ll take a few days, though, and I’ll need your measurements.”
“You’re going to make me a coffin, aren’t you?”
“Geez, your mind goes to dark places! No, I’m not gonna stick you in a coffin all day. Have some faith, alright?”
* * *
“A dress,” Charlotte said flatly. “This is a dress.”
“No, this is the dress. See, it’s all black, to keep out the sun. The skirts will protect your legs, the gloves your arms, and the hat, veil, and umbrella will protect that pretty face.”
“It looks silly.”
“Just think of it as a suit of armor. Your last line of defense against the sun.”
“Why, was an actual suit of armor out of the question?”
Libra sighed. “Is it really that bad?”
“Well…no, it’s just so…frilly.”
“Hey, don’t knock the frills. They’ll protect your feet, since you never wear shoes. That is, unless you want your feet to become little pools of ashes.”
“Wow. You really put a lot of thought into this.”
“Of course. You done complaining now?”
Charlotte gave him a look. “I was, but now I think I should start over.”
“Great. Do you have your stuff?”
“What stuff?”
“Your luggage! I told you I wanted to leave tonight!”
“Ohh.” Charlotte grabbed the box filled with the too-frilly dress. “Okay, got it.”
“That’s it? You don’t have anything you want to bring with you?”
“Libra, besides the clothes I’m wearing, I don’t have anything, period. Now get moving, we’re burning moonlight.”
Libra shrugged, hefted his pack, and followed his cousin north.
* * *
“Remind me again why we aren’t flying?” Charlotte asked.
It had been twenty minutes since they’d started. Charlotte wasn’t used to walking any real distance, and her legs were already starting to feel tired.
“I told you, I can’t fly.”
“Mmmyeah. You did say that. I thought it was much more credible before you flew.”
“That was a one-time thing.”
“Because now you can’t anymore.”
Libra rounded on her. “Do you think I’m lying? Do you think I’m not terrified and confused about what happened that night? I don’t need sarcasm right now.”
“Alright, fine. Take off your shirt.”
“What!? No!”
“Oh, take off the shirt, you prude.”
Libra grumbled something, but took off his shirt.
“Okay, feel…this, here?” Charlotte said, poking at a bump below Libra’s right shoulder blade.
“See, when you flex this muscle here–”
A giant black bat wing shot out of Libra’s back, knocking him to the ground.
“Now, balance is very important while flying.”
“Very funny,” Libra said, pushing himself up. His wing twitched oddly as he tested the unfamiliar muscles. “What about the other one?”
“You sure you’re ready for that? What if you try to flap both at once and end up spiraling into the ground?”
“I’ll take my chances.”
“Okay, well, it’s the same deal here, you just have to–” Once again, Libra’s wing popped out.
“You have to do that every time you want to fly?” Libra asked.
“No, that’s just a reflex you’ve got. That’s how I was taught to open my wings. You’ll start learning how to fold and unfold those things soon. So, you ready to take off?”
“Probably not.”
“We’ll start simple. Open your wings wide and run forward. Once you get some momentum, the rest will come naturally.”
Libra nodded and ran forward. Ten yards away, he start flapping and soared into the sky, and straight into a tree.
Charlotte ran to where Libra was on the ground, swearing. His left wing was bent at a nasty angle, and was gushing blood.
“Ah. Okay. Good news! We now have a good reason not to fly.”
Libra made a noise that fell somewhere in between a grunt and a sob.
“Can you get up? We need to fold up your wings.”
“Oh Hell no! Nobody is touching these! I’m pretty sure I can’t move the left one on my own anymore.”
Charlotte sighed. “If your wings are folded, then the pain will go away.”
“Oh. Really?”
“That’s different, then. Help me up?”
Charlotte grabbed Libra hand and heaved, causing him to yelp in pain.
“Okay,” she said, “this is the part that sucks.”
She grabbed each of his wings and forced them against his back.
Libra released a wordless scream, mostly because it was that or bite his own tongue. Charlotte was right, though. Once the wings we’re folded (and, as far as he could tell, completely gone) the pain ceased.
“Phoo,” Libra said. “Let’s not do that again for a while.”
Charlotte didn’t reply. She was staring at her hand.
“Thanks, though. For getting my wings folded, not for telling me to take flight under a canopy of trees.”
Charlotte continued to not reply as she hungrily cleaned the blood off her hand.
* * *
“Is it out yet?” Charlotte asked.
She was crouching on the ground, her umbrella pointed east like a frilly shield as the light of dawn spilled onto it.
“It’s coming,” Libra replied. This was the third dawn Charlotte had experienced, and she always spent the first few minutes in a state of panic. “You know you’re going to be okay, right?”
“I can’t stand it when it’s rising! It’s like it’s looking for me.”
Libra wouldn’t say it, but he was actually a little worried too. They’d emerged from the forest the night before, and though the ground here was frozen, there were no clouds in the sky. Libra didn’t know how well Charlotte’s “armor” would work against the unfiltered sun.
“Why don’t we find someplace to sleep early today?” he said. “I’m kinda tired.”
As it turned out, finding someplace to sleep was easy. Charlotte used some kind of echoing technique that Libra didn’t understand to find a small cave, and they settled in for the day, Libra sleeping on the ground, Charlotte hanging from the ceiling.
It was around noon when Libra was awoken by a sharp pain in his neck.
“Holy shit!” he screamed, jumping up.
Charlotte stood a few feet away from him, her eyes unfocused, her mouth dripping blood.
“Char? Are you okay?”
Charlotte leapt toward him. Libra grabbed her head, and she started vainly biting thin air, her arms pathetically grabbing at nothing.
“Charlotte? Are you…asleep?”
Charlotte grabbed Libra’s arm with both of hers, wrapped her legs around it, and stopped moving.
Libra, not knowing what else to do, slapped her across the face. She fell like a rock. Then, she kicked his feet out from under him.
“What was that for!?” she yelled, coming to her feet.
“You were sleepwalking.”
“Sleep– Libra, you’re bleeding.”
“It’s nothing.”
Charlotte wiped her mouth. “Oh, no. Oh no. Ohnoohnoohno. Libra I am so sorry. I never meant–”
“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”
“Let me close the wound, at least. C’mere.”
“Ah, no, it’s okay. I’m all healed up. Dhampir, remember?”
“Oh, right.”
There was an awkward pause.
“Charlotte, when was the last time you ate?”
“…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Last month. I think.”
Libra sighed. “Okay, we’ll deal with that tonight. Let’s just try to get some sleep, okay?”
“Yeah. Okay.”
* * *
They got very little sleep that day, but were up and out as soon as the sun set.
“Right,” Libra said, “the first thing we need is an animal.”
“What, to eat? I can’t do that.”
“Hey, if you can teach me how to fly, I can teach you how to eat.”
Charlotte let out a dramatic sigh. “Okay, we don’t have to fly.”
Libra gave her a look. “Just go find a deer or something, okay?”
Charlotte returned about half an hour later with a full grown moose.
“It is absolutely terrifying how easily you carried that back here.”
“Yeah, well, I worked up an appetite. So what’s your big plan?”
“First, let’s go over some things. Meat does nothing for you right? It has to be blood?”
“Okay. If you drank the moose’s blood, how long do you think it’s take for you to have to feed again?”
“I dunno. A few weeks, maybe?”
“Right. Good. Okay.”
There was a pause.
“So…are we just gonna leave this here for the great blood gods?”
“No,” Libra said, gently running the blade of his sword across his palm. “We’re going to wean you off of human blood.”
“Libra,” Charlotte said in a strained voice, “do you know what you’re doing?”
“I really don’t,” Libra replied, letting his blood drip into a tin cup. “Hey, how much of this do you think would make a pot of moose blood appetizing?”
Charlotte shook her head, unable to answer.
Libra shrugged, picked up the pot that was lying next to him and placed his sword against the moose. “This is gonna be really gross.”
* * *
Charlotte felt great. She was full for the first time in at least six months. There was a skip in her step, and she felt she could take on the world. Having nothing else to take on, though, she simply carried Libra’s pack.
“You know, it occurs to me that butchers wear aprons,” Libra said.
“Yeah, I didn’t think it would have that kind of blast radius without a heartbeat.”
Libra took the soaked shirt off, and Charlotte said, “Hey, let’s see how your wing’s doing.”
“Wow, I really don’t want to do that,” Libra said.
“Too late!” Charlotte cried, pressing the muscles on Libra’s back that she knew would reveal his wings.
They both sprouted forth, the right one opening beautifully, while the left remained crumpled, like a giant had repeatedly stomped on it.
Libra let out a yelp. “Don’t do that! It makes me feel like a Jack-in the-box.”
“Okay,” Charlotte said. “Be careful here, but I need you to open your wing as far as you can.”
Libra started to comply, then cried out in pain.
“Hmm…” Charlotte muttered, apparently in thought. “Yes. I can fix this.”
“Char, I don’t think this is something that gets fixed. I think this is something you die from.”
“Oh, nut up. One of your wing fingers is out of its socket, that’s all.” Charlotte grabbed the extra long, seemingly extra fragile finger, and yanked it back into place with a pop.
“Now, let’s see what those things can do!” She cried, taking off into the night sky.
Libra followed, a good deal more clumsily.
“Get ready,” Charlotte said, flying in a loop around him. “This next part’s gonna be weird.”
She opened her mind to the Convergence, creating a link between her and Libra. Then, she sent along it little things that had become second hand to her. The tiny twitches of wings as they detect wind changes, the feel of thermals as they lifted her up, and how to do some great loops.
As Libra’s flying immediately improved, he asked, “What was that?”
“Just a thought I had,” Charlotte replied. “I think that means there’s something else you didn’t know you could do.”
She flew straight up into the air, delighting in the feel of the wind beneath her wings, and Libra caught up to her.
“This is the most amazing thing that’s ever happened to me,” he said. “Thank you.”
Charlotte smiled. “Let’s grab our stuff. Then I’ll race you to the far north.”
“You’re on.”
* * *
As they travelled on, moving faster by the strength of their wings, the nights got longer, and they spent less time in caves, and more flying, watching the trees and the mountains, the clouds and the rivers, the animals and the stars. Then, one night, the sun didn’t come up at all.
Charlotte and Libra sat on a rocky cliff watching the sky above light up with colors.
“I could watch these forever,” Charlotte said.
“Yeah, they’re pretty amazing,” Libra replied.
A slow warmth crept over Charlotte as she realized how romantic this moment was. She looked sidelong at Libra, the man who had taken her from her old life and swept her off on an adventure, the man who’d helped her battle her demons, the man who bled for her.
The only living creature on the planet that she had anything in common with.
Emotions overwelmed her to the point that she thought she may be physically ill. She turned to Libra, and decided she wanted him to feel what she did. She opened a link between them ready to broadcast every emotion, every thought of hers into this one perfect moment, when she noticed something:
Libra’s emotions were broadcasting already, yelling and cheering and being generally very happy. She took a quick peek, to see what Libra was feeling in their perfect moment.
Accomplishment, wonderment, love. Libra was looking into the sky and feeling glad that he could do this for his cousin, and was astonished by what the sky here had to offer. Charlotte could sense his love for her, bundled in his head like a baby in a blanket, warm and safe. She felt it and realised that he wanted to protect her, to keep her safe from the horrors of the world, to do whatever it takes to make her alright.
She also felt a word echoing off of his love. “Cousin.” To him, it bound the two of them together, a bond that could not be broken. It was the reason he fought, the reason he loved, the reason he bled.
It was, Charlotte knew, the bond that would keep them apart as well. He would not, could not, see past that word.
The perfect moment passed, and Charlotte could see what was not to be. She turned her head away, unable to stop a tear from streaking down her cheek.
Libra looked over. “You okay, Char?”
“Yeah, it’s just…so beautiful.”
Charlotte took in the eerie glow of the sky above, and reached a decision.
“Come on, let’s see if we can touch it.”
And they took flight.