*first draft of The Feather on My Scale: Book 2 of Gods of Fire*
“Think he would fit in?” I asked my right hand man upon entering my private chambers.
“One way to find out.” Ptolemy grabbed the wab by the collar, pushing him against the wall.
Wash squeaked, his eyes going wide. “Please, don’t kill me!” He protested, hands clasping around Ptolemy’s arm.
“What about kissing you?” Ptolemy closed the scant distance, piercing aqua eyes studying the scattering of constellations across the man’s nose. Wash shivered at the question, his eyelashes sweeping down. His throat worked over and the tips of his ears went red.
“There’s always other ways to find out, Ptol.” I dropped the pile of rings in a dish that a servant would return to the temple priests.
“I can let him go.” Ptolemy hadn’t backed up yet, even with that suggestion.
“I doubt he would try to run away at the moment.” I raised an eyebrow in their direction while a pair of footsteps approached.
“He’s cute. Just a snack or are you sharing? Totally Henu’s type, don’t you think, Ptolemy?” Nebra asked, her draped robes slipped against the flagstone. Wash gulped audibly, his eyes flashing to study the tall woman. His cheeks paled under her analysis.
“He doesn’t weigh more than a feather, Henu. You’re thoughts?” Ptolemy ran fingers up Wash’s neck to trace the hollow behind his jaw to his ear, twisting fingers into black curls. I had forgone joining with Nebra and him this morning and he was using this moment to torment me and the untrainted priest.
“Thoughts, Wash?” I shrugged off my over robe, tossing it over the arm of upholstered chair.
“Sir?” he looked to me, his mismatched alexandrite eyes catching mine, his voice trembling, still dealing with Ptolemy barely a nose away from him.
“On being my hierophant? I’ve been told on more than one occasion that I’m a sacreligious heathen.” I shifted from dismantling to watch my general and the object of all our interest.
“Wait, what?” his voice cracked, his tight grip on Ptolemy’s arms loosening, resting his weight against the prosthetic between his legs. He flicked a questioning glance at the man. “That-that doesn’t hurt, does it?”
Ptolemy chuckled before turning into a full rawr of laughter. “You don’t keep him, Henu, I’m keeping the little piebald dove.”
A black shadow passed the threshold, robes and hair touching the floor in a cascade of death. “Henu doesn’t speak Imperium or Angelus and supposedly your work through the church would render you multi-lingual. Not a lot of people in Hawria speak Imperium.” Seth walked past, her face in a book. Nebra slipped fingers around her waist, stalling her progress toward my library.
“I’m still pinned against a wall here! Wait, you’ve got me in here to translate? No, I can’t. I’ve never been high enough up to be issued classes. Something about being an incomplete person. You know, the whole strippedy bit on my face,” he squeaked. “What about me getting Ustor into Imperium. Weren’t you going to kill me for smuggling people out?”
“Adom was the one that mentioned death. I didn’t. So, life or death for you depends on some things. You’re a whole human, the hell are you talking about? You aren’t dead here,” I protested the statement.
“Tell that to the priests and the townspeople. They firmly believe part of my soul has been left out of my body. And that’s a hard stigma to handle.” He pushed a hand up along the stripe to tunnel fingers into ringlets, scattering them into a disorganized halo. “What do you mean fit in?”
“Depends on some things,” Ptolemy muttered, shooing Wash’s fingers from curls to carefully twist them back into shape.
Wash stalled under the treatment, unsure of what to make of the giant keeping him in place to preen him. “Things? I can do almost anything if it means you not smashing my skull in right now. I will continue to protest the treatment of Ustor.” He pointed an angry finger in my direction. “That won’t change. Most everything else is up for bid right now.” Wash waved his hands in compliance.
That had my attention. I turned from devesting myself of way too many presumptive bobbles to return to where Ptolemy had the wisp pinned. “Anything?” I mused to my group of advisers. Seth closed her book with a snap to look the man up and down as Ptolemy continued his fixation. I could have sworn until my dying breath that he was a reincarnated cat of some type, the level of pride he took in grooming everyone around him.
“Anything. You have my life. I won’t betray you. I would say on pain of death, but I’m partial to death not being painful, if you could please,” Wash swallowed.
“Careful what you promise, wab,” Seth hissed.
“Depends on if you fit in.” I pulled Nebra and Seth in under my arms, kissing one then the other’s neck, finding the soft weight just below Seth’s bust. She tapped my hand with her book.
“Fit in?” Wash asked, confused as he watched us. “Wait. Who are you people?”
Ptolemy released him, letting him slide to the wall. My military adviser turned to me, slipping his hand around my neck, pulling me to his lips. I could melt every time he touched me.
Wash startled at the contact. “You’re, you’re, you’re,” he stuttered, trying to get past his shock. I released Nebra and Seth. Ptolemy moved away, giving me space.
Nebra continued her hold on Seth, nuzzling her neck where I had kissed her. “Concubines. Think wives and husbands without the political pull, so to speak. He’s supposed to stay unmarried to be able to join a faction. Something to keep the nobles happy,” Nebra informed him, looking up from her hold.
“Not that I’ve found anyone I want to deal with in that type of condition. Wash, have you ever met the eligible of the Nobles? Talk about a headache I don’t want to deal with.” I pulled the long gold hair sticks from my mane and let it drop around my shoulders. Adom always twisted so tight, I’d think he was trying to pull my face in half.
“Finding someone who’d fit into this happy little menagerie you’ve got going here, Henu, is not going to be an easy feat if you’re considering marriage vows.” Seth cautioned.
“Fit in? You, you…you want me to be one of your concubine?” His eyes were approaching the size of saucers, flicking back to me.
“That depends. You’re not Noble, so marriage is off the table.”
“Depends on what?” Wash pushed for Ptolemy to give him room.
“If you want to be a consort to the King, Wash. You’re a wab right now. If he banished you to the outskirts, you would still be wab. It’d mean changing your vows though if you became Henu’s.” Ptolemy released the man.
Wash straightened his collar and shifted his belt to tighten the folds of his clothing back in order. “You do know I’m a Mubkharatan, right? Like, that wouldn’t fly in court, you know, right? I sort of was just caught for shielding Mubkharatan.”
Seth snorted at the protest. “A Mubkharatan. That’s what you’re afraid of? Your king having a Mubkharatan consort in his bed?”
“No, wait. That sounds really bad. That’s not…what?” his face paled as he worked through her statement. “Bed?” he asked.
“That’s what he was saying,” Ptolemy gave him a toothy smiley, they type full of fangs.
“Would I be taking you away from a lover by keeping you captive here?” I asked.
He paused. Shook his head. “No, no one. The temple took me in when my parents couldn’t afford to feed me and all my siblings. Having half a soul made me unfit to share cups with another priest. No one has ever indicated even a passing interest and I’ve kept myself to myself because of that. They wouldn’t want my taint,” he indicating the difference in the color of his uniform and made the mistake of fiddling with his curls again. Ptolemy was hard pressed to keep the ringlets from going arai.
“So no one to worry that you aren’t coming home for your dinner? No left over crush that would leave you pining for another’s arms? Are you interested?” I asked.
“I’m…I don’t…I don’t know you well enough to feel comfortable just jumping into your bed, My Lord.” He pulled the edges of his robe tighter at his chest.
“That’s why I said be careful what you promise.” Seth gently thumped him on the top of the head with her book.
He swallowed. “I promised anything.” He turned back to me. “I mean what I say.”
“I don’t want anything, Wash. If this isn’t something you’re partial to, I can see about getting you smuggled into Easimal for your own safety. I would not count you as safe from Adom or many others for having protected Ustor. As consort, I can protect you with my name, with the people’s belief in my sanctity to keep you clean.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be the Rake of Iunu who takes advantage of everyone? Why are you asking me if I want in on this? Don’t you just go up to people and like…well, you know?” he demanded. Well, that reputation hadn’t died. Kiss Ptolemy one time in front of his commanding officer and now everyone calls me a rake.
“Is that something you were hoping for?” I slipped my fingers up his hand, pulling it to my lips. A sliding sensation ran beneath my skin at the contact, a piece of me easing out of my fingers to where we met.
“Just a little unexpected, My Lord,” he whispered, his hands warming in mine. “What are you, sir?” he asked, his fingers drifting along mine as I let go of him.
“How do you mean?”
He rubbed at his chest, flicking a glance away from the four of us. “You don’t feel like normal people, My Lord. My Catalyst reacted to you,” he admitted quietly, his shoulders shaking.
I turned to Ptolemy, raising a questioning eyebrow. He shrugged, shaking his head. He wasn’t sure what that meant.
“Catalyst is your burning. Then there’s the cool down, what was that called again?” Nebra asked.
“Repercussion. Some Ustor are Consumptionists. Some are Performers. It’s like our brain kind of trips out after we use our power and has to meet a certain set of circumstances so we can function normally again.” Wash replied.
“And you touched me and it did something to your Catalyst?” I tested the idea.
“I felt, I felt really powerful, Sir. I did every time our skin touched. Please don’t kill me.” He pulled his hands in under his arms protectively, flicking a nervous glance at Ptolemy.
“I won’t if you quit asking me not to kill you,” I gave him a bit of distance.
“How rude is it to ask what your Catalyst is?” I asked.
“You are the King, Sir. I can’t tell you what is or is not rude.” Wash regarded the tile at my feet with detached fixation.
“Are you comfortable showing it to me?” I moved back toward the living area, encouraging my concubines to open up space for the man to breath.
“Not really,” Wash pulled his hands out from under his arms to rub at a shoulder. He flicked a glance between Ptolemy and Nebra. She shrugged and turned to one of our benches to collapse upon.
“Answer me this, then. Is it dangerous?” I pulled off the last of my robes to leave me in my skirts and necklace. The room finally felt cool.
“I’ve never produced a hot enough flame to burn anything. I can’t, even if I try.” Wash’s attention narrowed to drag along my stomach as I turned back to him. The tips of his ears were turning a shade of crimson. I raised an eyebrow at his unerring fascination. Ptolemy and I shared a smirk while Wash tried to get his tongue to obey him.
“A flame that won’t burn? Impossible!” Ptolemy protested, drawing Wash’s attention away from me. He glared at Ptolemy’s exclamation, his gaze fleeing to my feet once more. He held out his hand, palm up. An image of a standard size black cat sat on it.
I reached out to touch it, meeting Wash’s cold glance over the apparition. The creature slinked to my hand as Wash watched it’s movement. Dry heat shrouded in cold air stepped onto my hand. Weightless, it’s paw prints whispered up my sleeve as it climbed up and onto my shoulder. It launched, turning into a multicolored bird before plummeting to the ground to bounce as a red ball. The ball rolled to the middle of my chamber and flattened, seeping across the tiles. Grasses and dunes rose up, encompassing my room in a flickering hallucination of the mountainside. Sweat beaded along my sides and lower back as the temperature in the room rose.
“What is this?” Nebra walked into the oasis, touching the wavering juniper growing in the corner. Her fingers sank into the ghostly image.
“My…my Catalyst.” He swallowed.
“This is fire? Nothing’s burning?” Ptolemy took in the bizarre images.
“Not all catalysts are destructive,” Wash hedged quietly.
“How long can you do this for?” Seth circled the scene, intrigued.
“About another twenty minutes. My Repercussion gets worse the longer I do this, though,” he protested.
“What happens with your Repercussion?” I turned from the scene to regard the wab.
“I have to eat,” he was trying to become one with the wall.
“That’s not a problem. We have plenty of food here.” I waved toward the other end of the hallway where my dining quarters lay beyond the library.
“Not just anything, My Lord,” he tried to swallow. His eyes were turning glassy.
“Consumptionists. They have a vice, right? Whereas the other type, actors or something like that, they have to repeat a task a number of times, yes?” Ptolemy recalled as he brushed at the breast feathers of a perched bird who regarded him with indifference.
“Yes, sir.” Perspiration gathered at the edge of Wash’s hairline.
“And what is your vice?” Seth returned to the man.
“Honey.” He flicked his glance across the floor to study where tile met the wall.
“How do you obtain it, as a church member? Honey is incredibly expensive!” Seth gasped. Nebra caught my eye over her head and nodded. She left for the com to summon a servant while we continued plumbing the depths of Wash’s skills.
“It’s not safe for me to use outright, so it’s not like I get much of an opportunity to practice with it,” Wash retorted.
“I’m sorry, that was unfair of me,” Seth conceded.
“No, I’m sorry. That wasn’t polite of me to snap at you like that.” Wash sank to his knees and bowed low to prostrate himself against the tile, as his position called for him to do. Watching the shake in his fingers, I realized it was also a way to hide the toll producing the mirage took on his body.
Nebra returned with a decanter filled with raw honey, warmed to liquify it’s viscosity. Holding it, she glanced between Wash and myself as if to ask who to give it to. I motioned for the cut glass, taking it from her offer. “You wanted a rake?” I approached him as his images disintegrated around us and took a knee to put me on his level. “Know something?” I asked, drawing his attention to look up from the floor. Slipping fingers up the column of his throat I caught the curls at the back of his head to hold him where I wanted him. Unfocused mismatched eyes flicked between me and the decanter. “I’m keeping you, my hierophant.” I took a swig of the honey and kissed him, dueling with his tongue as his focus melted beneath the onslaught.