Published in Darklaw
Copyright © Teresa Wymore. All Rights Reserved.
Epic fantasy | 2017
WELL INTO SUNFALL, Kami was still awake. The fire was low and Rook was snoring. Her thoughts drifted back to the carnage she had witnessed at the hands of the legions when they had fled Riverside.
She offered a silent prayer to the Great Mother for those they had abandoned, and when she couldn’t restrain her tears, she clenched her fists, angry at her sadness, angry that she couldn’t be more like Avestine: strong and self-assured.
Avestine was a woman full of dogs, each snarling to be left alone. Kami wondered about a child growing up with such privilege and such violence, a child who had learned her value rested solely on strength and then grew to discover she didn’t have enough. Avestine seemed less a woman than a scar.
She watched Avestine sleeping, her face in shadow, but Kami didn’t need light to remember. She had memorized every muscle and how it might twitch.
Avestine’s face was immensely interesting and beautiful for that reason. Sword cuts left a broad straight scar underneath her right eye and a thin zigzag near her lower lip. On her forehead, she had a series of recessed white scars, the sort of healing from lost pieces of skin. A flesh-colored mole lay at the nadir of her left eye socket. The only scar Kami couldn’t identify was the one beside Avestine’s left eye. It looked like a burn, perhaps, and bore a pattern: a ray or sunburst.
Her tan skin was coarse, and long blonde eyebrows stopped short of meeting over a narrow bridge. Heavy eyelids and fleshy cheeks belied the leanness of the rest of her. Her nose descended in a strong line, flaring wide at her nostrils, and along with her broad lips, gave her a perpetually feral expression.
Kami closed her eyes and saw Avestine’s lips, saw them parted, felt them kissing her. The sensual sneer was only her second most captivating feature. Whatever else one noticed about Avestine, the first and last thing were her eyes.
Avestine could not warm those flat blue crystals with compassion. She could not soften the stark pupils with tenderness. Her piercing eyes were calculating, and completely incapable of deceit. Avestine’s inability to lie was likely a liability in an emperor, and Kami wondered if that’s why she had given most of her time to the army, leaving her brother to manage the politics in the palace before he claimed it all for himself.
In the time she had spent tracking Avestine, Kami had never heard of her trying to pass as a man. Her face wasn’t exactly masculine, but her size was, so Kami wondered why she didn’t conceal her identity better. Kami had many questions she would like to ask Avestine, but she was sleepy again.
She let herself drift, and while her eyes caressed Avestine’s sleeping face, she recalled the taste of her breath. She closed her eyes and wandered again toward the abyss until chills rolled along her spine.
She woke with a start.
Avestine was under the blanket with her, breathing hotly against her cheek. Intrusive hands ran all over her body. Avestine stroked Kami’s thighs and slid a hand between them.
When Kami squirmed, Avestine took hold of her jaw. “What were you remembering? The running, the blood, the fire? Or did you just imagine my tongue in you and realize how alive you are?”
Kami pried uselessly at the steel grip, which made Avestine grin. “That’s all right, little one. Hundreds of people watched you beg like a rutting cat. You don’t need my respect, and I don’t need your love. You’ll do what you’re told. That’s all.”
Kami lashed out so wildly, the corner of her blanket fell into the fire. Avestine shouted for Rook, who calmly patted out the flames and tossed the smoking blanket back to the ground.
Kami had scurried away, watching Rook, while Avestine started walking towards her. Too late, Kami realized Rook wasn’t going to help. She didn’t make it to the trees before Avestine caught and dragged her back to her bedroll.
Avestine pinned her wrists to the ground. Kami stopped struggling as they traded furious air. They kissed until they both had to pause to breathe. As Avestine caught her breath, she watched Kami’s chest heaving beneath the soldier’s tunic, which hung loose and low.
Avestine’s eyes roamed Kami’s face and seemed to find something arousing every place she looked. “A woman can pleasure a man five ways,” she said, panting excitedly. “How many ways do you suppose a woman can pleasure another woman?”
“If you’re the woman?” Kami tried to catch Avestine’s evasive lips with her own, but Avestine pressed kisses across her cheeks and chin. “Just one.”
Another grin halted Avestine’s restless mouth. “You’re a smart girl, aren’t you?” Sweat dripped from her forehead onto Kami’s face. She gave Kami’s parted lips a cursory lick and then shoved her tongue into her mouth.
Kami’s fingers hurt from the continued pressure of Avestine’s grip around her wrists, and when Avestine’s tongue once left her mouth, Kami complained, “You’re hurting me.”
Avestine glared as if she might tear her apart. “Oh child, you have no idea how I can hurt you.”
All Kami could do was slow Avestine’s rush to remove her clothes.
When Kami was naked, Avestine flipped her over onto her belly and climbed onto her back. She wrapped one leg around both of Kami’s legs and curled her arm around her neck. She raised Kami’s chin, stretching the small body in a backward arch, and began to maul Kami’s breasts with her free hand.
“I’ve been thinking about your tits all day,” whispered Avestine.
Though the smoky voice made Kami shudder with desire, she made Avestine work hard to keep control.
Avestine fingered Kami with nagging strokes that grew urgent as her own arousal grew. Kami pushed back against Avestine’s shoulders, even as she rubbed against Avestine’s hand.
“That’s it,” muttered Avestine.
Kami felt as if she were lost in a strong current, her body fighting vainly to get somewhere. She rubbed against Avestine’s hand, trying to heighten the friction, when a sudden pain stole her breath way.
She cried out as the sting that began as a simple snap spread with a burn, and then fingers were digging inside her, massaging her, stroking the sting away with a pressure she had never felt before.
Avestine clawed at the softness as she humped Kami’s leg and groaned, “That’s it.” Her hips churned against Kami.
Kami groaned, not sure what she wanted. Avestine’s hot breaths blew across her cheek, her breath bitter and vital. Kami tried to turn back and kiss her, but Avestine wouldn’t let her. Kami felt as if she were falling. She lost her breath and couldn’t seem to find it.
She was dying. Dying. She tried to gulp the air as Avestine rolled her onto her back.
“Breathe slowly!” demanded Avestine.
But Kami still thought she was dying. She struggled vainly, trying to get free, trying to get more air.
Avestine sealed Kami’s mouth with her hand, forcing Kami to settle for what she could breathe in through her nose. Though she continued to writhe, thinking she would surely suffocate, Kami slowly regained her breath and her sense. When the hand finally left her mouth, light-headedness left her shivering.
Avestine was still panting excitedly. She reached back between Kami’s legs.
“No more,” complained Kami.
“Oh, it’s too late to turn back now.”
Avestine braced herself on her elbows, and rolled her hips around on Kami’s thigh until she was frustrated. She turned Kami onto her stomach again and humped her. She began to growl as she rocked against Kami’s thigh. Each time Kami felt the seam of Avestine’s trousers against her thigh, Avestine growled and pressed harder.
The rhythm hypnotized Kami until Avestine finally convulsed with a series of deep moans. When Avestine’s body stopped shuddering, she rolled limply to her back and lay catching her breath.
Kami scooted away. Her body still ached to be touched. Her heartbeat pounded in her chest and her pulse throbbed between her legs. But she was free. Freedom mattered more than pleasure. She looked about for her tunic, found it, and put it on. She told herself to run but couldn’t will herself to rise.
“Don’t worry.” Avestine seemed to recognize her dilemma. “I’m done with you for now.”
“You’re going to regret that.”
“Not much I can regret about that, darling. Next time—”
“Next time? You think I’m going to let you do that again?”
“Let me?” Avestine laughed. “You have no idea what you’re going to let me do.” She laughed again.
Kami looked to the trees. She wanted to run. She had tried to leave Avestine once before and had returned. She feared she would always return. Still, she told herself she would leave. One day, she would be able to.
Kami had always known the forest was her home. She didn’t belong in a city. She didn’t belong in anyone’s bed, either. Life among the beasts was free.
Too often, she had seen men tame themselves. They would sacrifice present desires for future rewards. They bartered their freedom for safety or wealth or revenge. Kami would barter with no one.
She would make no promises and strike no deals. Not for safety. Not for freedom. Not for love. What Avestine wanted from Kami she would have to take. Every time.
The perfect hunter had found the perfect prey.