SCARS OF THE SEA / book two /// chapter 58 - read and comment and CC loll
Posted September 9th, 2017 by Garrett
in a city drinking coffee
a/n: before u judge me this bitch be unedited af.
| 58 |
Lucus was scared.
He’d been terrified before—toed the line of life and death more times than he could remember. But this was different. This wasn’t terror he felt seizing his lungs, strangling him. This was fear. The Savages. They’d taken everything from him. They’d killed his friends. Destroyed his home. And now he was allowing one of their kind to bring him to another one of their kind. He was succumbing to them. Willingly. And maybe it was his own decisions that scared him or maybe it was the prospect of going face-to-face with a Savage with no weapons. Nothing to defend himself.
As they were leaving he’d tried to find Michael—to postpone their ride—but Scarlet had forced him out of the house.
He’d asked her where they were going so many times that she’d eventually threatened to leave him in the snow if he asked again. Lucus was wise, so he kept his mouth shut. All he’d seen thus far were rolling hills of grass and snow, the sun and the sky, the moon and the stars—all from atop a horse’s back. Scarlet hadn’t allowed him to ride separate from her so he rode on a stallion with her. She sat in front of him. He supposed if he really decided he didn’t want to go he could always just slide off the horse’s rear end and she’d never know he left.
Until she turned around. Or asked a question. Or moved even a little.
Lucus blinked, yanking himself out of his head.
A line of thick, tall evergreen trees rose on the horizon. Dark green needles caked in snow. Lucus squinted at the sky, the sun drooping lower by the second, the day turning from blue to gray.
“That’s where we’re going?” He asked.
Scarlet merely nodded, her short dark hair skimming the back of her neck. Freckled with snowflakes.
“What’s in there?”
“You’ll see,” she said, her voice cutting through the air like a blade.
“Why can’t you just tell me so I’m better prepared?” Lucus hissed.
Her shoulders raised as his breath hit her neck. “Because if I tell you then you won’t come.”
Lucus raised his eyebrows. “That’s reassuring.”
He could tell she smiled by the way her ears rose.
“So how long are we going to be wherever it is we’re going that I’m not going to like?”
Scarlet scoffed. “I didn’t say you wouldn’t like it, just that you won’t like the idea of it.”
“How long will I have to endure it?”
She hummed for a second. “I’m not sure.”
Lucus chuckled. “So what we’re just going to stay there indefinitely? In the forest?”
Eventually, dusk came and they finally crossed the threshold into the woods. Huge, sturdy trees rose around them. Moss and stone and snow crunched under the horse’s hooves. A strange, purple twilight bounced off the snow, glistening through the icicles hanging from low branches.
Lucus flinched at many wild animals, creatures he mistook as a stalking Savage. A squirrel passing branches, knocking off a layer of snow—a deer darting away at the first sound of the stallion’s nicker.
Night fell upon them, casting their tiny world into utter darkness. The moon and stars struggled to shine through the thick canopy of pines overhead. Lucus’s breath unfurled in a cloud of vapor. The snowy earth reflected what slivers of the moon it could catch, but did little to light their path.
“Should we stop?” Lucus asked after their stallion stumbled over a root for the third time.
Scarlet shook her head. “We’re almost there.”
“How can you tell?”
“I feel it.”
The way she said that made Lucus uneasy. He glanced at the murky pools of darkness between trees. If he took her word for it, they would arrive soon. Hopefully where they arrived had more light.
At least an hour passed where they didn’t speak—where the only sounds were the muffled crunch of the stallion’s hooves and the ominous noises of the forest. Insects chirping their nighttime chorus, a chipmunk skittering across the forest floor, the glistening patchwork of a spider’s web. Then Lucus saw it and he gasped.
A pulsing glow deep in the forest. Orange. Fire.
He shuddered, remembering the bloodthirsty flames that had torn apart Sudbury. These were the Savages—people of death and destruction.
He balled his fists, enough heat rising to his cheeks that the cutting cold felt like a distant brush of a chilly hand.
These were the people who had killed his friends—
“Calm,” Scarlet said, her voice a soothing purr.
Lucus’s fury flared at what she said, until her tone hit him and his fire snuffed, dying down to a sizzle. Something in the way she had spoken was like a gentle caress—a maternal, calming touch.
The fire ahead—now obviously a torch—still flickered a mere thirty yards away.
In a minute, they were upon the torch. The horse halted just beyond the ring of wavering yellow light.
“Go on, boy,” Scarlet said.
The stallion did not move. Scarlet sighed and dropped off the side, circling around the mount. Lucus followed her, watching from the side—as well as watching his own back against the horrors of the forest—as she tried to pull her horse forward. The creature pushed against snow and dirt and roots with its mighty hooves, muscles flexing. It wasn’t going anywhere, he realized. They’d travel the rest of the way on foot.
Hopefully Scarlet was right. Hopefully their destination wasn’t far.
Or hopefully it was.
Lucus wasn’t sure if he would rather endure the beasts of the forest at night, or the Savages.
Scarlet nodded her head into the dark wood, her jet-black hair swaying with the motion. “Let’s go.”
Lucus sighed and stepped forward, following behind the Exiled Savage. Every now and then his gaze dropped to that circular scar on her forearm, an obvious marking even at night. A marking that sent chills down Lucus’s spine, raised the hair on his neck, and put horrific images in his mind.
He tried not to look at it.
Instead he focused on his breath clouding in the air. On his shoes crunching in the snow—his toes numb inside sopping socks.
He allowed himself to think about Devdan and Mila. Alone on horseback in the winter-kissed plains. He liked to think that they’d sought shelter somewhere. Found a place to settle. That’s what Devdan said he wanted—a quiet life away from the Savages. And Michael—his chest ached thinking about his friend back in Tarrinport. Hopefully this little escapade Scarlet had dragged him on wouldn’t take long. He hadn’t even gotten a chance to tell Michael they were leaving.
“Do you see that?” Scarlet asked.
Lucus squinted past the trees and snow and pine. In the far distance, a single light glowed.
“Do you think its another torch?” Lucus asked.
She nodded and continued forward, ducking to dodge a low branch. Lucus lifted it, the pine rattling and snow crumbling away. He shivered as he passed underneath and icy powder fell beneath the collar of his coat, like nails of ice running down his spine. He tried to shake it out as he followed Scarlet’s footsteps. After a few seconds of beating against his coat and shirt, all of the snow either fell out or melted, leaving him colder than he was before, his teeth chattering.
He clenched his jaw to cease it, but somehow he found himself clanking his teeth together, the sound like wind chimes made from bones in the middle of a hurricane.
After a minute, Scarlet ordered him to shut up. So he made a conscious effort to keep his jaw locked in place, his teeth as far away from each other or as close together as he could.
Then he slammed into Scarlet’s back and realized why she’d snapped at him.
They had arrived.
But their destination was not before them—it was above.
Platforms wrapped around the massive trunks of trees, buildings and ladders and staircases. Rope bridges slinking from one to the other connected the entire network of tree houses to a massive center building. It sat, nestled in the highest, sturdiest branches. It would have been a fascinating sight had the entire village not been cloaked in mysterious darkness. Not a soul to be seen. Not a single flame—save for the torch discarded on the ground before them, melting the snow around it, casting flickering waves of black and yellow and orange on the fresh crystalline white.
“This is it?” Lucus asked.
“Yes,” Scarlet breathed. She strode forward as if she’d done this a thousand times and lifted the torch. The flame danced in the air, smoke trailing from its curls. It moved and writhed and lived—at least until Scarlet dunked it flame-first into a bank of snow, snuffing it completely.
As if on cue, the world lit up. Torches rose amongst the tree houses, shedding warm light on the village, on the forest floor. Lucus peered up, gaping at the people now scurrying out of houses, gathering on multiple bridges that swayed with the weight of so many.
Savages. That’s what they were.
The sound of something zipping rang in his ears. He looked around and saw three Savages descending from uncoiled rope. They hit the earth as gracefully as felines and started into a walk toward Lucus and Scarlet.
“What are they doing?” Lucus asked, clenching his fists, readying his fighting stance. At least, what he thought a fighting stance would be like.
Scarlet chuckled. “They’re coming to greet us, moron.”
Lucus glared at her, relaxed a bit, and stood straight and tall. However, he stayed prepared to drop into his fighting stance if it came to that.
The Savage in the middle carried a torch, bathing their faces in soft light.
The torch-bearer was young. She had black hair tied back in braids, small coils frizzing around her temples, and skin as smooth as caramel.
To her right a lean, pale man stalked. He rested his hand at his hip, where one of the Savages’ curved swords was sheathed.
On her right a woman with long, clean ebony hair and skin like the winter night walked mightily. She wore a coat of furs and worn deerskin boots. Strapped across her back was a scimitar like her friend had, and a long, ivory bow. A quiver clanked at her hip. Out of the three, she looked like the biggest threat, the warrior.
Though Lucus, glancing side-eyed at Scarlet, knew looks could be deceiving.
Scarlet stretched out her left hand, keeping him at bay, and she extended her right, the sleeve of her shirt rolled up as it had been to reveal her scar. Marking her as one of them.
Feet stood between Lucus and those Savages. Feet.
He could reach out with a longsword and nick one of their throats.
When they breathed, the steam that curled off their tongues stirred in the air between them. The torch-bearer’s eyes flashed to Scarlet’s scar, then to Lucus, where he stood like a coward behind her. He stepped to the side, straightening his shoulders, hoping he appeared confident.
A smile tugged on Scarlet’s lips. The Savage handed over the torch to the man on her left and closed the space between them.
The two women embraced, Scarlet burying her face in her fur coat. Lucus watched the Savage’s closed-eyed expression, her nostrils closing as she took in Scarlet’s scent. They pulled apart, her eyelids fluttering open.
“Leeya,” Scarlet sighed, as if the name had been held inside her for so long, a relief to finally say.
Lucus watched, scanning the two Savages that had flanked Leeya. The pale-faced man, his lips pink and cheeks flushed, dropped his hand from his sword.
“It’s been so damn long,” Leeya said, a giddy smile on her face. She drew back and Lucus shrank under her wandering eyes.
Scarlet cleared her throat, clasping her hands behind her back. “This is Lucus. I brought him here to see my grandmother.”
Grandmother. Lucus turned wide-eyed to his companion. She hadn’t mentioned that the person they were going to see was her grandmother. He’d anticipated a fight—that he would have to defend himself. Something unwound in his chest, a spool wrapped so tight around his lungs that it had cut into his breath.
He sucked in the cool winter air.
“He looks weak,” the weapon-clad woman sneered.
Scarlet bobbed her head. “Nice to see you too, Jasmin.”
“So you’re just leaving me out?” Asked the man. “I see how it is.”
“Shut up, dumb ass.”
He scoffed and smiled.
Scarlet turned to Lucus, her dark eyes alight and alive. Once asleep and now awake.
“That’s Callahan,” Scarlet said, gesturing to the tall, fair-headed man. If it weren’t for the bulging muscles visible even underneath layers of clothes, Lucus would mistake him for a child with such round cheeks and hair a shade yellower than the snow around them.
“Really?” He cracked a smile. “I thought his name was Dumb Ass.”
Scarlet glared at him as Callahan reached for his sword. Leeya hit her friend’s muscular shoulder, rolling her eyes. “We need to get going. The forest floor at night is a dangerous place to be.”
“But not up in the trees?” Lucus asked.
She narrowed her eyes on him, such dark eyes. “Not for the same reasons.”
Chills broke over Lucus’s arms. Maybe from the cold, or maybe from the horrible images her words invoked in him—blood and fire and screaming.
He debated digging his heels into the ground, refusing to go any further just as their horse had. But he forced himself to follow the Savages through the cold snow, ready to yank off his boots and thaw out his toes by a fire. They stopped at their ropes, dangling from a platform high above.
How was this going to work?
Scarlet was already clasping onto Leeya’s arm, locking her leg around the other woman’s.
Leeya chuckled and asked, “Would you rather ride up with Dumb Ass over there or Jasmin?”
Lucus grinned as he considered her question. Neither was preferred, but if he had to choose—
He walked over to Jasmin, hesitant to touch her like Scarlet had touched Leeya. But the Exiled Savage took control. She reached out and guided his hand to her shoulder, then the other to her waist. For a second, Lucus was reminded of a time he’d danced with pretty girls in a warm tavern, filled with the sound of laughter and the smell of cinnamon. A time long gone.
She wrapped her leg around the back of Lucus’s, so that there was no space between them, his chest against hers. Intertwined with a Savage.
He heard Leeya ask in a low voice, “You ready?”
Scarlet murmured an answer.
Before Lucus could interrupt them by saying that he was not ready, Jasmin pulled on the thick rope and they shot up.
They were flying for two seconds, rising as fast as a bird taking flight, the dark forest a blur of blackness freckled with the light of the moon against frost and snow.
Two seconds where the wind and cold did not only bite, but it clawed at his face. Dragging freezing iron nails down his cheeks, leaving them red and raw. Prying open his eyes.
Two seconds, and they were at the platform so high above, stepping off onto the wood. Lucus’s mind was buzzing, distantly curious as to how the contraption built on the branches above had consumed that rope, had spooled it up on its own. It had worked, though. No doubt constructed by intelligent engineers. And the floor he stood on, walked on. It echoed hollowly beneath his heavy boots, but it did not tremble. It did not shake.
Leeya and the others were already taking off, walking across one of those bridges. Scarlet stood beside him, though her eyes were on the Savages ahead.
“These are your people,” Lucus observed.
She looked at him, face wind-kissed and eyes lit. “Yes.”
They made their way to the bridge, Scarlet leading him. Even though the rope bridge appeared safer than the thing he’d just ridden on, something in his stomach still writhed at the thought of crossing it.
He had no other choice. So he stepped where Scarlet stepped, placing his feet on the gently swaying bridge softer than a cat. The ropes slung from one platform the next just above him must’ve been sent by the gods themselves. Lucus clenched them with white-knuckled hands as if they were the last of his lifeblood. He didn’t let go until his first foot was on the next platform. Until he knew that even if the bridge fell away, he would make it across.
By the time he’d made it over, the others had already stepped onto the next platform. Lucus scanned the circular buildings on each, the windows covered by canvas tarps, nailed into the wood and flattened against the side by the wind. After a hasty examination, he continued onto the next bridge.
And the next.
And the next.
Finally, after he’d leaned over at least four bridges to dry heave, he made it to the final one. Where Leeya, Jasmin, Callahan, and Scarlet were all waiting for him. He raked a hand through his hair and stood straight.
“What took so long?” Callahan asked.
Lucus looked back at the five bridges he’d crossed. “I had to get used to the…um…the—”
“We don’t have time for this,” Jasmin said, her voice like ice.
“She’s right, I’ve got sleep to catch up on,” Leeya turned to Scarlet. “I’ll see you in the morning?”
Scarlet nodded and wrapped her arms around the taller woman’s neck. She whispered something to her that made Leeya close her eyes and sigh.
Lucus looked down, at his shoes, wishing that he were anywhere but there.
But Leeya pulled away and the three Exiles left.
Scarlet turned to Lucus, unable to keep that infectious smile off her face.
“Why are you so happy?” He asked.
“Like you said,” Scarlet beamed, “these are my people.”
Scarlet’s grandmother lived in that central tree house Lucus had noted before. A long ramp had stretched the distance from the platform to the central building. Inside, torches were sconced on the wall, glowing with a gentle flicker. The first thing he smelled as they stepped into the warm confines of the wide, open room was peppermint. Followed by an assortment of other herbs. Spices he remembered seeping out of the kitchens in The Red Maiden. Then he spotted the old woman with crisp white hair hunched over a low table, pouring a cup of tea from a steaming kettle. She was alone and faced them, surrounded by empty chairs.
“Grandmother,” Scarlet breathed, breaking into a run. The poor old woman barely had time to look up from her tea before her granddaughter came barreling into her. She gasped at first, but a moment later her spotted, saggy arms wrapped around Scarlet.
Lucus stood by the entrance, listening to the canvas door crack in the wind.
At least a minute passed before one of them pulled away. Scarlet wiped at her eyes. Her grandmother only watched her with a loving softness. Lucus admired them for a moment, basking in the calm aura of the room and the love soaring between the family.
Scarlet spoke. “Grandmother, this is Lucus.”
He felt the weight of the old woman’s eyes on him, her gaze as strong as a warrior’s sword and as wise as the most knowledgeable scholar. He wondered how many lives this aging woman had lived in her one lifetime.
“It’s nice to meet you…um…Grandmother.”
A beat of silence.
The old woman started into a cackle and sighed. “My name is Olga. Please take a seat, both of you.”
Lucus obeyed, pulling out a chair across from her. Scarlet sat beside her grandmother, pouring herself and him a cup of tea. He thanked her and took it, sipping at the edge, not bothering to check it for the lingering smell of poison. Olga was drinking it and she seemed fine. If anything, he wondered if the tea had life-extending abilities.
“Now,” she said, her voice as smooth as a snake’s scales. “What brings both of you here on this cold winter night?”
Lucus wanted to tell her that he had no idea and was wondering the same thing, but he kept his mouth shut and let Scarlet do the talking.
“Lucus wants to fight against the Savages, to defend people from them.”
Olga’s smile showed her approval. “That is wonderful. What have you done to fight back, Lucus?”
He stammered for words, reliving the nightmarish memories that clawed at his mind. “I…we infiltrated a camp. To free slaves.”
She raised her almost nonexistent eyebrows. “Was it successful?”
“Yes,” he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. He took a gulp of tea, the warm liquid loosening his tight throat. The throat that his own hands had once closed off once as he had relived even more haunting memories. “And when the Savages invaded my hometown, I fought against them until I could no longer.”
“Brave of you.”
“No,” he said before he could stop himself.
“I wasn’t brave. I was terrified. I escaped after I’d watched my friends die. I tried to fight and I couldn’t—”
His voice broke and he realized that his knuckles were white around the teacup. He relaxed his hand and took a deep, deep breath.
“You tried,” Olga said. “That’s more than most do.”
Lucus closed his eyes and shook his head against the images that fluttered through his mind.
Roman screaming his name—roaring at him to get out—his voice ringing even after his throat had spilled on the floor of their home.
Nicolo’s house aflame. Howard’s children dead and hung from the windows of his house—the screams of his wife echoing from inside. And Ezekiel leaving his daughter behind and charging headfirst into that swarm of Savages—trying to fight them off, to give his friends a couple of minutes of a chance to escape.
More than Lucus had done.
He opened his eyes and saw the woman before him. Wrinkled with age but wise and strong. Even with both of them sitting, with her far shorter than him, he felt like an insect beneath her dark eyes.
“I hate your kind,” Lucus managed to say through his clenched teeth.
He felt everything in the room go still. The buzzing calmness that had cloaked them burned away.
When Olga spoke, her voice was like steel. Sharper and more menacing than steel. “They are not our kind. I hate the Savages more than you do—we all hate them. There is a reason, Lucus, that we are Exiled.”
She turned her arm over on the table to expose the scar identical to all of theirs. A perfect circle cut into her very own flesh.
“We are children of the Mother, not those tainted spawn of the King.”
Lucus furrowed his eyebrows. “What was that?”
Olga sat up. “Stay here tonight. You may take one of my guest bedrooms. Scarlet, dear, I would very much like to sleep.”
Her granddaughter nodded and walked to the back of Olga’s chair. In a smooth motion, Scarlet pulled her chair away from the table and rolled it away. Over the creaking floorboards, through a hanging canvas tarp that separated another room. How had Lucus not spotted the wheels on either side of Olga’s chair? Had he been so blinded by her ominous presence?
Before Scarlet passed into her grandmother’s room, she looked over her shoulder and gave Lucus a sympathetic smile. Then she disappeared. Lucus drained his teacup and claimed one of the guest rooms. Once he’d settled into one of the low cots, once he’d decided it would never be as comfortable as the most uncomfortable bed, he let sleep take him into a realm of death and guilt.
a/n: so i'm at 148k and like ??? is this real life. i didn't know my fingers could click this many times on one doc without giving up lmao
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