Remembered Kisses: Chapter 14: Lessons
The next day was an off-day for Sam at the college, so he spent it in the store. By the time Lily showed up for one of her once-or-twice weekly tutoring sessions that evening, he had been through two pots of coffee. “Hello, Sam,” she said when she arrived. “It’s cold as hell out there,” she added as she hung the long coat up on the rack and slipped out of her fur-lined boots. He looked up from his coffee and grunted. “Long night?” She asked with a grin, and walked over to one of the reading tables, smoothing her grey wool sweater-dress before she sat. She got her notes and two of her textbooks out of her leather knapsack and got to work on her studies while he worked.
His head was pounding. The nightmares had effected him badly, and even all the coffee he’d drunk hadn’t been able to chase it off. He couldn’t shake the image of Sofia walking away. He couldn’t shake the memory of that long, haunting shadow in his room. Had he seen it? Were he and Audrey both imagining things? Am I going mad? Eventually, after he’d checked out a shortish lady purchasing a book on Early Etruscan Snoods, Lily closed her book and looked across the store at Sam. “I’m tired of studying,” she said. “All these incantations and formulas make my brain hurt. Do mages really need them all?”
“At first,” Sam replied, putting the receipt in his receipt drawer and sliding it closed. “The process of reaching out to the otherworld is difficult and dangerous. Every formula and incantation makes it easier, like runoff from a mountain slowly forming a stream, and that stream slowly carving a river.” He walked out from behind his counter over to where she was studying. He opened her book and turned it to mid way, then tapped on his finger. “Just like that, actually. Alistair’s Law of Conservation of Effort. Every time makes it easier still. It works the other way, too. The more you do it, the easier it comes. The river begins to flow through you, and your brain builds something akin to muscle memory for how to get there until it’s more or less a matter of will. Dean Hamble? He doesn’t even need to gesture. It just… happens.”
“That’s incredible,” she breathed. “To be able to apply your will and reach across worlds.” Sam was acutely aware of how close he was standing to her. She smelled like fresh flowers, like jasmine and water lilies. Her hand brushed his, and he felt a charge rush over him, goosebumps rising on his skin.
“Incredible,” he echoed, and he felt himself sinking.
“It must be such a rush,” she added, and turned so she could look up at him, her bright blue eyes staring up into his. “To wield the raw power of another reality. Fire, force… have you ever summoned something, Sam? Brought over a creature, bound by your will?”
“No,” he said. “I haven’t. If calling energies and forces from the otherworld is dangerous, summoning… things… is much, much more so. They don’t belong here, and the world knows it. The feedback can be incredibly vicious. Bring something too big through and it could knock you out, and that could be fatal. I had that issue not too long ago. I summoned a tree-thing in a fight. I nearly lost control of it. It almost went very, very bad.”
She nodded again, and her gaze fell away. He tried to focus. His heart was racing. He swallowed hard. “Anyway. Let your mind rest a bit. Your power works differently, I think.”
“It does,” she said. “It’s more… personal.” Her hand brushed his hip, and then she was taking it in her own, and squeezing it as she looked back up at him. “I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me,” she said, her expression earnest and sincere, her voice sending a thrill through him. “It means a lot. It makes me feel safer, after what happened to Kendra.” Her eyes met his again, and they were smokey and violet-flecked and filled with something hungry. “I’d like to…”
The door to the shop opened, and in strode Sofia. Suddenly Lily was a few steps away, packing up her supplies. Sofia stopped and looked at her, then back at Sam. “I’m sorry, Sam,” she said. “Was I interrupting something?”
Sam shook his head dully. “No,” he said, slowly forcing himself to pay attention, like someone underwater trying to fight to the surface. “You’re not interrupting anything. Just my usual evening tutoring sessions. You have something for me?”
“I do,” she said. “Well. Things to tell you, at least.”
“I should be going, Professor,” Lily said, her voice still husky, her eyes downcast. “It’s late.”
“Do you need me to walk you to the bus stop? It’s dangerous out there.”
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Don’t worry. It’s not far, and I have the rowan amulet Pallas made for me.”
“I’m still not sure…”
“Let her go, Sam,” Sofia said, eyes still locked on Lily. “She knows how to take care of herself.” She turned and met Sam’s eyes, then, and something about the force of her gaze shook him out of it a little further. “Trust me.”
Sam nodded. Lily smiled at him again, her eyes full of unspoken promises, and then she was gone.
“Dangerous game you’re playing, Sam,” Sofia said. “I can smell her all over the place. Like a doe in heat… or a preying mantis.”
She shook her head. “Never mind. Let’s go.”
“No one’s talking, Sam,” Sofia told him as they hit the streets. “No one knows a thing, or if they do, they’re not telling me. The Dead Court guards its own. Even from within. Especially from within.” She looked back at him. “But I don’t think it’s one of them.”
She shook her head. “At the very least some of the foot soldiers would be whispering. There are always rumors. People might be tight-lipped as the grave,” she smirked, “But they’re not perfect. No, I think it was someone from the outside trying to make it look like the dead court. It’s a massive community of undead, so it’s an easy scapegoat. But… not.”
“Can’t be completely sure. But I think so. This way.” She turned onto one of the side streets. We’re heading for the docks. The territory is getting dicier.
Sam sighed. “This keeps getting muddier and muddier, Sofia,” he said. “If it’s not the Dead Court, then who? Who stands to gain from this sort of thing?”
She shrugs. “It could be anyone, Sam. This sort of power… I mean, I guess it’s hard, if you’re not made for it, but the energy drawn out by it. It’s got to be real, right?”
“Audrey says drawing the power it is harder than it seems,” Sam said. “And… wait.” His senses were suddenly on fire, and he threw up a hand. “We have company. Son of a bitch. Where the hell did they come from?” I barely felt a thing. He threw up a hand, dragged a bit of power from the local otherworld, shaped it into a spear of will and cast it out at one of the things scrambling out of the darkness of an alley towards them. One of the things, a tiny little nightmare no larger than a German Shepherd but with tentacles for legs and a lamprey’s jaws was torn from its ‘feet’ in a spray of ichor, but there were others. At least half a dozen charging out of the shadows. Maybe more.
“Sofia! Get out of here!” He wheeled on another, but this time his blast was too slow. The creature darted away with part of his pants in its mouth, and his leg was already oozing blood.
Sam threw another blast of raw will at the swarming nightmares. He half-staggered back on his throbbing leg, falling back into a deserted parking lot, calling more energy up. He forced himself to limit it to small bits, pulses he could gather just from the residual energies of the nightmare children themselves. He had to conserve power. He couldn’t afford to burn out against so many.
He felt his back bump against someone. “I told you to go,” he snarled.
“Sam, darling. As charmingly old-world as you are, shut the hell up and let me fight.”
Another one leapt, and there was Sofia, knocking it out of the air with a punch that was almost faster than Sam could see. One pounced for her back, and Sam took off its head with a carefully focused blast before triggering off another at one dancing in close. Sofia moved, struck. Sam whirled around with her, keeping them off of her with timed, focused blasts, careful and precise with his blades and bolts of force. His leg hurt, and he could smell his own blood, and his headache had gotten worse, but for the moment he was in his element. They danced together, mage and vampire, for what seemed like an eternity and no time at all.
And then it was over: the circle of shadow-tentacle-lamprey dogs was gone. Some fled into the night, some lay on the pavement, their shadowy forms slowly dissipating.
She turned, scanning around them again, and then she grinned at him. “Good job, Sam,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve gotten to see a mage in a fight before. Damn, that’s impressive. With all the booms and shooms and blasts, I mean.”
“Consider it a rare treat,” Sam said dryly, pushing sweaty black hair out of his eyes. “Though rather less rare than it used to be. I get in a fight or two a week lately, and am distinctly displeased by it.” He appraised her. She was completely unhurt. She wasn’t even breathing hard. Of course she’s not. She’s not breathing at all. “You’ve got pretty good moves yourself. Where’d you pick that up?”
“Well, you know. Incredible strength, supernatural speed, unerring grace. Even a neophyte vampire can be pretty effective in a fight.” She winked. “And I think I make it look good.”
She did. His blood was up, and he realized exactly how he was filling his eyes with her. He was acutely aware of how hard his heart was pumping, and of how the way she fit into her skin-tight leather pants and the hot-pink crop top she wore under her jacket. “I’m kind of amazed you can move like that in those pants,” he answered, grinning. She laughed.
“These pants? Hell, Sam. The damn shoes are worse.” She turned, looking down at herself.
“Though they are kind of flattering. I like the way they make my ass look.”
“You’re kind of fixated on that ass.”
“Of course. Aren’t you? If you’re not, you should be. It’s my best feature.” She winked, and quickly checked out where they were. “Great. we’re almost there.”
“You’ll see," she teased. "You're going to love it."