Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Elemental Desire - Chapter Two

Losana wandered around the empty apartment listlessly. She found herself wishing that she had signed up for a class like Emily had, though probably not three hours of modern and ballet dancing everyday. An introductory painting class or a job might be nice, though. Losana couldn't imagine that standing in front of a cash register in Duane Reade would be duller than sitting at home aimlessly and listening to the radio replay the same summer love songs over and over again.

Originally, she had expected to practice her magic over the summer, since the school year always seemed to be impossibly busy. Besides, Sylvia never strayed too far from her apartment—certainly not as far as her university—and she needed the air elemental's guidance to control her magic. She had considered finding a human teacher when she had first discovered her magic, but she had never quite found a way to broach the subject with anybody. Besides, Sylvia seemed to know more than any human could, anyways.

But Losana hadn't had any contact with Sylvia in the last week and a half, not even a gentle breeze ruffling her hair. She had felt the vague presence of the fire elemental, but she had never made its acquaintance formally and she would have felt awkward approaching it without Sylvia.

Losana sighed as the radio played another advertisement for some auto insurance or other. She blamed her utter boredom, among other things, on one Teagan N., who had intruded on her life.

The first couple of days after his visit—and abrupt departure—Losana had kept wary, eying the shadows and peeking into rooms before entering. Honestly, she hadn't believed that he would leave so docilely after his blatant aggressiveness, and had expected to find him hovering around the apartment unseen. She had looked for his gray eyes and had half-expected to smell his scent in her room, where he had last held—grabbed her.

But he wasn't there. He was never there, and Losana felt something strangely akin to disappointment. In the last few days, Losana had finally given up the idea that there was a man lurking, unseen, in the hidden corners of her apartment.

And boredom had replaced her wariness, because although she knew that Teagan was not in the apartment, Sylvia hadn't returned either. None of the air elementals had.

When Sylvia finally reappeared, she was such a faint shimmer in the air that Losana almost didn't notice. In fact, she wouldn't have if she hadn't been looking for Sylvia this whole time.

"Sylvia, I've missed you," Losana said. "Life's been so boring without you."

Sylvia smiled and flitted around until she was out of the shadows and almost entirely opaque, with only the faint, blurred glow of sunlight shining through her, making her glitter like something saintly. "I did not think that you would appreciate excitement after the recent happenings."

“It’s been two very boring weeks.” Losana plopped down on the sofa. "So when can you teach me magic?"

Sylvia flew in a circle around Losana before answering, "I can't."

"What? Why not?"

"I..." Sylvia began to answer but she made a little worried frown and stopped. "You should ask the Nusquamesse to teach you."

Losana furrowed her brows. "'The Nusquamesse'...?” The she remembered the man who had plagued her thoughts for the entire last week and a half. “Oh! You mean Teagan."

Sylvia made another circle around Losana's head. "Yes, the Nusquamesse. Ask him. I cannot teach you anymore."

"Wh—" Losana began to ask, but the air had already smoothed out where Sylvia had been so that the sunlight can through the window unfiltered. She could call to Sylvia, because Sylvia could never truly leave this place, but if Sylvia didn't want to talk anymore of the subject, she wouldn't.

Losana stood in front of her neighbor's door, two doors down. Polished wood, painted in a smooth, dark chocolate color like any other door in the building. But this one felt different. It hadn't felt different from the other apartments when Grandpa Jerry was living there, but Grandpa Jerry had moved out to Long Island to live with his daughter and grandchildren, and Teagan Nusquamesse had moved into it—two doors down from her apartment.

She took a deep breath. She wasn't doing anything weird. First of all, she was just visiting a neighbor. A new neighbor. She was giving a friendly neighborly welcome and all that like nice, kind people ought to do. She even had a warm apple pie as her alibi. So what if she was going to ask him about magic? Sylvia had told her to ask him, and he himself had talked about magic (even though a very large part of her mind was more inclined to simply think that she had imagined that).

Knock... knock, knock.

There, she knocked. She took a deep breath and forced herself not to smooth her white, summer skirt or tug at the strands of her blow-dried hair. She was welcoming him with an apple pie, not herself.

The door opened immediately. Teagan stood at the entryway, in a shirt and dress pants. There weren't any shoes covering his large, bare feet, though. His mouth widened slowly in a smile that reminded Losana why she had been so unsettled every time she remembered him. "It's good to see you visiting." And oh, his voice... a low rumble like the distant thunder. "Is that pie for me?"

Losana thought that she could just stand there and look at him and listen to him talk forever.

"Or should I be jealous that you've made pie for somebody else?"

"Oh, um..." Losana kicked herself mentally for spacing out like that. She might be asking Teagan for help, but she couldn't—mustn’t—forget that he could be dangerous. If nothing else, he knew magic better than she did. And then there was always his sheer size and strength. "Apple pie. I Baked. At home." She paused before deciding to make another attempt at coherent, complete sentences. "But you're probably going out now because you're all dressed up so I won't bother you anymore and you can just have the pie and I'll visit some other time." She didn't think that that sentence was any more coherent.

She held out the pie to him, and was embarrassed to find that her hands were shaking and that she couldn't quite look at him and stared instead at a pretty onyx colored button on his black silk—it looked like silk, at least—shirt. He was just a neighbor, so she didn't know why her hands should be shaking. When large warm hands gently closed over hers, though, she was startled into looking up at Teagan and his gray eyes. She had forgotten that he had gray eyes. She hadn't thought she would.

"Do come in and share the pie with me," he invited. He sounded gentle and his hands were already pulling her into his apartment.

Losana let herself be glided by his hands. She could see the minimalist furniture, made of sharp glass and black steel, decorating his house. There were no flowers or plants or pets. Just a giant black and white abstract painting hanging on the biggest wall, a harsh version of those pretty hotel decorations and framed in cold, gleaming metal framing. This is who he is, Losana reminded herself.

The door clicked shut, then, and Losana felt a moment of panic before she reminded herself sternly that it was still broad daylight. And that Sylvia had told her to come to Teagan, and she trusted Sylvia. She noticed that Teagan had already set out two black, ceramic plates and placed a slice of pie on each. He pulled out a seat for Losana at the table in the kitchen and then placed himself next to her.

"Why are you here?" Teagan asked her just as she bit into the slice of apple pie.

She chewed it slowly, when she found Teagan's gray eyes trained on her. When she swallowed her bite, she told him, "Have some pie. Everybody says that my apple pies are good. I came to welcome you with an apple pie."

He blinked slowly before carefully cutting off a piece of the pie with his fork and placing it in his mouth. He chewed it slowly, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. "Indeed, you make a very good apple pie, but I don't believe that you came here to bring me a pie."

Losana fidgeted, but she figured she would have to ask him sooner or later, and it was probably better sooner. She swallowed the apple pie in her mouth with a gulp that sat uncomfortably at her throat. “Would you teach me survainer magic?”

For a moment, Teagan remained impassive. Losana resisted the urge to dash out the door out of sheer embarrassment. Honestly, nobody talked of magic as if it were real, and “survainer” magic? He probably thought she was mentally unstable and liked to play at pretend.

But the next moment, he gave her a slow, steady smile filled with white, gleaming teeth, as if he had been waiting for her to ask exactly that even before she had knocked on his door. Losana gulped and stared at her pie, wondering if she had made a mistake in trusting Sylvia. Sylvia could have different values than her, after all, considering that they were not off the same... kind of beings.

When Losana glanced up, she found that Teagan had put down his fork and leaned forward. His eyes were swirling like mercury and so completely focused on her that she couldn't pull her gaze away a second time.

“I'll teach you magic,” he promised—it sounded like either a promise or a threat and Losana would prefer for it to be a promise. “But I won't teach you survainer magic.”

“Call an elemental,” Teagan said as she sunk into the black leather sofa. His voice drifted from somewhere behind her.

“But...” Losana didn't know why exactly why she was objecting, so she stopped her objections. Still, she had expected him to start her on long-winded theories or some tedious background or at least ask her how much she knew of magic. “Which elemental?” she asked, instead.

“Any.” Teagan's voice came from to her right, and she turned to glance at him, but he was a blurred shadow in front of the bright sunlight that streamed through the buildings from outside the window.

So, instead, Losana closed her eyes and shifted more comfortably in the sofa. After a moment, she opened her eyes, though, and said, “But, there aren't any elementals here.”

“Hmm...?” Teagan sounded distracted, from right behind her again. She turned to look at him, only to find that his gray eyes were completely focused her. “Just try.”

“Alright,” Losana acquiesced doubtfully. She only agreed because she had asked him for the favor of teaching her. So, she felt she needed to listen to him. She closed her eyes again, and felt her heart pounding unreasonably in her chest. When she finally took her attention off of her racing heart, all she could hear was the silence of the apartment, with a pre-war building's thick walls and double pane soundproof windows. Even Teagan's breathing was so quiet that she could only hear her own breaths rise and fall overly loudly.

Slowly, Losana forced herself to find that strand of magic that was usually always so close to the surface. This time, though, she had to coax it out, and let its warmth flow out carefully, as if it were a tiny flame that could be blown out at any moment. Even when her magic surrounded her, though, she couldn't sense any elementals in the area. Still, maybe Teagan just wanted to see how she called elementals in the first place, so she opened a little more.

Hello? She asked tentatively, feeling as if she walked into a conference room after the meeting was long over. I—

Suddenly, she felt something slam into her. It was black and stifling and it wrapped around her oppressively. She tried to open her eyes, then, but they weren't listening to her. Then, she tried to scream, but no sound came out. She pushed at it with her magic, but it was like a wet towel and became heavier as it drained her of the magic that she pushed at it.

Then, tendrils of it started drifting into her. She didn't know how it was happening or how she knew that it was happening, but she could feel them, tens or hundreds of little tendrils sneaking into her and going to the deepest parts of her. They were making holes in her own magic and getting more and more tangled and tight as she tried to push them out.

Get out! Losana shouted mentally, because she couldn't hear anything in the stifling dark silence of her mind, but she had never felt anything like this, neither the utter, sudden, desperate helplessness nor the pain as if somebody had plunged their hand inside of her and started squeezing her organs.

It's too late now, Teagan's cool voice flowed into her. Just let it in. His voice soothed her until she was just calm enough to understand what he had said.

No, Losana rebelled, and pushed at the strands of invasive magic with renewed fervor, but as before, it absorbed her magic. Only this time, the frightening burning pain redoubled and spread out to her arms and legs. She felt the proverbial hammer pounding on her head just before she fainted into painlessness.

Losana came awake slowly, rising through the layers of warmth that surrounded her. They weren't the uncomfortable, sweaty heat of summer as her sluggish mind had expected, but something softer. The warmth that surrounded her wasn't physical at all.

With that thought, she jerked awake and sat up too quickly. She was in an airy room, with sunlight brightening the clean, white walls. The covers, too, were white... and most definitely not hers. When she looked around once more, she found Teagan, sitting in the chair so still that she had missed him the first time around. His eyes, though, were fixed on her firmly.

Losana tightened her grip on blanket and fought not to pull back. There was nowhere for her to go, and it would only make her fear apparent. She didn't know what had happened, exactly, or what Teagan wanted, but from what she remembered, she thought she ought to stay alert.

“I'm not going to hurt you,” Teagan said, as if he could read her thoughts.

Losana relaxed her grip on the blankets for a moment before she gripped them hard again, so that her knuckles were white. “Because you already did?”

She could swear that Teagan's light gray eyes flattened for a moment in displeasure, making his beautiful face awful and terrifyingly inhuman. If they did, though, it was gone in the next moment. Losana forced herself to breathe normally. Even if she were alone with him in his apartment and her survainer magic would be of no help, she still had her wits about her. Besides, Sylvia knew where she was, and Sylvia would find a way to help her if she didn't go back to her apartment soon. She hoped, at least.

“I did not hurt you,” Teagan said, and Losana wanted to believe him. “You hurt yourself.”

“So, those... things... they were from you.”

Teagan nodded, and Losana felt disappointed. She had wanted him to say no, she supposed, and would even have tried to believe him, because Sylvia had trusted him. And because he had such mesmerizing gray eyes. In the movies, beautiful people were always good people.


“You shouldn't leave yourself open to attacks like that, and once you are attacked, you should not have struggled as you did.”

“I've never gotten attacked before!” Losana exclaimed. “You were the first and only, and only because I asked you to teach me magic. You could have at least warned me—or better yet, taught me how to defend against something like that before you just went at it.”

“Now you know.”

Losana stared at him in utter disbelief for a moment before pointing out, “Yes, but I still don't know how to defend against that.”

“You would—”

“I don't want to hear it,” Losana cut him off. She felt the hot heat of anger slowly burn away the fatigue from fear, and frustrated enough that her eyes were stinging with tears. “I'm not going to ask you to 'teach' me anymore magic.”

“Who will you ask? Sylvia won't teach you. None of those elementals will.”

Losana paused. Who would she ask? “I'm sure you're not the only one who knows magic,” she answered him anyways. The only other person she knew who knew magic was Charles. Still, she thought she’d rather have wild magic than to ask Teagan for help again.

Losana wiped her hands on the pale green towel absently. Her boredom had driven her into doing the dishes by hand instead of using the dishwasher. Besides, her parents were both away on business trips. Emily had left two days ago with a blue duffel bag for her dance competition and wasn’t due back until another two days.

Losana had had a plan when she had left Teagan, she reflected sourly. It was just a very poorly contrived plan. She had planned to find somebody else who knew magic and ask them to teach her. Or she would teach herself through experimentation.

However, she had had trouble finding anybody to teach her. After the abduction, Losana had resolved to avoid Charles and his men at all costs. She could think of no way of knowing if somebody knew magic either, unless she attacked random strangers on the streets to see who could defend themselves. Well, she didn’t know how to attack people and she didn’t want to cause others the pain she had suffered. Besides, she didn’t think the person would be very much inclined to teach her after getting attacked, even supposing she found some such person.

She tried to teach herself magic, then, but when she prodded her magic, she could feel a twinge of rawness and pain going from her chest out to her limbs. It wasn’t particularly painful, but when she tried to untangle her magic from those slimy black tendrils and pull it out, the debilitating pain from when Teagan had attacked her would return. It felt like she was tearing her organs to little pieces. She would double over and take deep breaths to calm herself with her familiar room spinning around her. She never even managed to call her magic since that unfortunate meeting with Teagan.

Losana was angry at Teagan and fell into a pattern of fuming. Each time she failed to call her magic—which was every single time—she would sit, feeling bereft of magic. And she would get angry at Teagan for somehow chasing away Sylvia, for tricking her into getting attacked, and for the pain. She’d get all worked up about it, but when she tried to remembered the pain without using her magic, she would only remember the soft comfort she had woken up to. She’d see Teagan in her mind and he’d have the most mercurial mercury eyes and the smoothest bass voice she’s ever heard. She’d sigh softly and smile to herself, and wonder what the big deal was about a little pain. Then, she would try to call her magic again, only to stop short when the littlest twinge of pain reminded her how much it had really hurt.

After several rounds of fuming, Losana had decided to do something useful instead. She had cleaned up the apartment, vacuumed it, made herself dinner, and then cleaned up after herself by doing the dishes. Now, she was fuming about this stupid fuming cycle that Teagan got her into.

All her miseries (which was really just boredom) was, after all, completely and wholly Teagan’s fault, and she amused herself by thinking up ways to avenge herself.

First, she thought she’d burn down his apartment, and wondered how shock and horror would look on his face, but she could only see his impassive face turned on her in her mind’s eye, with his gray eyes flat and demanding an explanation, and it frightened her more than she was willing to admit to herself. Then, she remembered that it would probably cause her apartment to burn down as well and so the plan wouldn’t work anyways. Then, she thought she’d go vandalize his apartment instead, complete with breaking furniture and painting the walls with graffiti. But, she realized, he might not care about his apartment at all. Or maybe he would just spend some money to get the walls repainted and buy the furniture again.

She’d have to do something drastic but subtle, Losana thought. She would find out his likes and dislikes and do something to destroy all the pleasures in his life. But though she thought she knew his personality quite well, she realized that she only knew some of what he could do, but not what he enjoyed doing, and to find out meant approaching him again. Well, a reconnaissance mission was in order, then.

The doorbell brought her away from her vengeful thoughts. Losana decided that the visitor could not have interrupted her on purpose, though, so she wouldn’t get mad at him. Unless it was Teagan, of course.

She realized her mistake the moment she opened her door. Six burly men stood outside, with day-old beards on their oily faces. They looked like clones of the other five who had kidnapped Emily over two long weeks ago. Losana didn’t know how she managed to forget Charles even in her anger towards Teagan. Teagan was only one man, after all, but Charles represented a whole organization.

She took one look at the twelve glassy eyes and tried to shut the door, but one of them wedged a foot inside before the door could shut. Another one, or maybe it was the same one, slid an arm through the opening and grabbed for Losana’s hand that was shutting the door. She jerked away in reflex and turned away from the opening, only to have them push the door wide open and stomp inside with dust clinging all over their gray, slumped suits and shoes that were badly in need of a polish.

“The doorman shouldn’t have let you in,” Losana stalled for time.

One of them laughed. “There were six of us and one of him. Just like how there are six of us now and one of you.”

All six of them took that as some cue to break out in cruel, broken laughter that frightened Losana into taking a step back.

“I’m not powerless,” she bluffed, as she wondered if she could endure the pain just this once and possibly beg Sylvia into helping her, despite Sylvia’s reservations. Or maybe she would call the fire elemental instead, who might not have the same restraints as Sylvia.

“Go for it then, little girl,” another one of them dared her.

They watched as Losana tried to coax her power to the surface, but as usual, there was that... sticky black thing tangled all around her own power and when she tried to separate her power from it, shocks of pain went through her. She stiffened, and forced herself not to curl up into a fetal position in front of them.

“See?” one of the said. Losana wasn’t sure if he was one of those who had talked before or not, and she didn’t really care. “We have enough magic to stop you from using yours.”

It’s not your magic, Losana wanted to yell at them, to take away that satisfied look in their beady eyes, but she realized it didn’t matter. What mattered was she couldn’t call her magic and they knew it.

One of them came towards her, then, with something black and clinking in his hands. It looked like a shackle, but the chain was too long. There was a large shackle on one end, and two little ones on the other. Then, Losana realized that the large shackle was for her neck and the little ones were for her wrists.

Her eyes widened and she took another two steps back, which she realized was a mistake by the gleeful sparks that lit up their eyes, and their maniacal grins. Somewhere in the back of her mind, Losana wondered where Charles found so many of these men or if he really had cloned them. She obviously couldn’t overpower them, she knew, so that left her only her disabled magic.

Her magic hurt every time she tried to get rid of the clingy, sliding black stuff, but what if she didn’t try to tear it away? She shuddered at the thought of purposely letting the remnants of Teagan’s attack course through her freely, but she would much prefer that than to be shackled and taken and the gods-knew-what by these men.

Still, she hesitated. To accept that black... thing clinging to her magic... To let it taint her... And in that moment of hesitation, they had already clinched the shackles shut on her. She tried to kick them, but they only hit her leg. She bit the inside of her cheek to stop the tears of pain. They jerked on the chain, and she felt as if her neck were snapping. She spun around, then, trying to keep them away, but they only laughed more.

In her panic, she pulled on her magic blindly, the tangled black stuff and all. It didn’t choke her magic as she thought it would. It didn’t try to mix into her magic, either. It simply wrapped around all her magic and slid through her naturally. It made her magic feel... fuller, somehow, and powerful, as her own magic never did by itself. She only savored the feeling for a moment before she wondered whom she should call. Sylvia might not answer, and she didn’t know the other elementals well enough to beg favors of them.

Her decision was taken away from her, though, when she heard a voice in her head. Are you in trouble?

It took Losana a moment to place the voice, deep and reverberating through her. It was Teagan’s voice, of course. She decided to worry about how he knew she was in trouble later. She didn’t worry about her fear of him hurting her, either, because... well, her gut feeling told her that if Teagan had truly meant her harm, she wouldn’t have been left spending so much time in boredom and being angry at him. So she answered mentally, hoping he could hear her, Yes. Can you help me? She hadn’t been able to keep the quiver of fear from leaking through.

The next moment, Losana felt the weight of the shackles replaced by a hand around her waist. She turned around to find Teagan standing behind her, immaculately dressed. His gray eyes swirled like pools of mercury, and face was so expressionless that she found herself shrinking away from him, too, but his hand felt as strong as the shackles it replaced and effectively stopped her from going anywhere.

Unfortunately, the six men didn’t seem intimidated. “Charlie was right,” one of them said, seeming pleased by Teagan’s appearance instead. “You are powerful. He just didn’t know that you had already bound an elemental to you.”

He’s not an elemental, Losana thought to herself, and wished he were. He might actually be able to save her, then. But all the elementals she knew appeared as wispy, translucent things and they never bothered doing anything human like eating or sleeping or renting an apartment. Therefore, Teagan was unfortunately solidly human, and though he was stronger than her, Charles must have sent many tricks with these six men. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to make them think that Teagan was more powerful than he was.

The wind picked up, then, seeming to ignore everything but the six men. They held onto each other and the wall and the fridge to stay still. “You’re just an air elemental,” one of the six men said, pulling out something from the pocket of his trouser. “That’s too easy.”

Losana looked at Teagan to see how he took that. She didn’t know quite what she had expected, but it certainly wasn’t the cruel smile he had lining his chiseled features that made Losana shudder and the hair on her neck stand up. Here was the proof to her earlier gut instincts. This, she thought, is how he treats people he dislikes, and so he must like me somewhat, no matter how I thought of him. His mercury eyes looked wild, and Losana wasn’t sure if she should get as far away from him as possible or as close to him as possible.

The room started to dim, then, as if something sucked up all the afternoon sunlight. The air chilled, more than Losana had thought it was possible with the wind. Her ears and nose and fingers started feeling numb with the chill and she swore that she could see her breath in the middle of July.

When it was all dark—and Losana blinked a couple of times to make sure that her eyes were still open and then decided to hold tight to Teagan—Teagan’s deep voice whispered through her blindness, “This is your warning.” Losana assumed that he meant the men, but still shivered at the raw power behind his voice. “Now leave.”

Then, it was all over. The last of the afternoon sunlight streamed through the window. The door was slightly ajar, with dirty footprints on the ground where the six men had been. They’re gone, but it was too close this time, Losana thought. If Emily had been here for them to threaten... If I couldn’t use my magic... If Teagan hadn’t been here...

Teagan stood beside her and rubbed soothing patterns on her back. His eyes were a soft gray, gentler than any eyes she had ever seen. “It’s okay, now,” he said softly. “It’s all over now.”

“It’s not okay,” Losana said, and was annoyed to find her voice wobbly. “What if... What if you hadn’t come?”

“But I have,” Teagan answered simply.

She jerked out of his hold, and felt all alone as the cold wind brushed past her. “What happens next time? You can’t promise to come every time.”

“I do,” he replied seriously, surprising her into stopping her tirade and looking at him. His eyes looked gentle and serious and trustworthy. All the sharp cruelty were gone, as if Losana had imagined it—and maybe she had, considering how frightened she was and how much she hated those men herself. Teagan took her hand in his, drawing her away from her thoughts. His hand was large and warm. “I can promise to come every time, and I do. I will be wherever you need me to be.”

“Nobody can do that!” Losana yelled at him, grabbing him with his arm with her other hand, as if she wanted to shake sense into him. It felt warm and solid and strong under her hand. “It’s not humanly possible, and I do not appreciate it when people lie to me so blatantly. I’m not a three year old, and I’m not so easily fooled.” She paused in her tirade, but he said nothing. She continued, then, as if her anger at him would give her strength and keep her from breaking down in fright. “And even if you could do such things, why would you?”

“I promised you I wouldn’t let anyone endanger you,” he answered, surprising her again. She hadn’t been expecting an answer. He pulled her close and placed a chaste kiss on the top of her head, his lips turning up in a smile as they brushed her soft, brown waves of hair and he felt her giving up her weight to him. “And I always keep my promises.”