Her body ached.
It wasn’t anything new. Although Lee was only twenty eight years old, she already felt ancient. Exhausted even upon awakening,with stiff aching joints, and bruises that seemed to appear out of nowhere.
Lee slowly flexed her muscles and tried to hold together the fragile wisps of the dream. But as always, it faded away, out of reach, out of mind. He faded away.
She didn’t know his face. But each night he came to her. Each night, they found each other again. He would look at her with eyes that made her burn and want and wish and for that brief period of time, she felt whole, complete and that sensation lingered with her as she drifted from sleep into awareness, but the minute she opened her eyes, all memory of her dreams started to fade. All that remained was an ache in her chest, a knot inher throat and a body that felt as though somebody had tried to beat her death.
Today, the ache was worse. The memories were fading fast although she tried to hold onto them. Like smoke, though, they faded away even as she grabbed the notepad by her bed and started to scrawl down what little she remembered. She didn’t look down while she wrote—instead she clenched her eyes tightly shut and focused on him. Even if she couldn’t remember his face, she could remember how he made her feel inside. Focusing on that instead of trying to recall the dream made the words flow easier.
Blood. Screams. Smoke. The cries of the wounded. Ugly snarls and fetid breath. People clamored around her and they had needs that she couldn’t even begin to understand. And him—
Always him. Everything seemed to revolve around him and everything inside of her yearned for him. As much as Lee dreaded closing her eyes and facing the weird dreams that assaulted her while she slept, she yearned for them as well. Because her dreams led her to him. He would make her laugh, even when the dreamswere dark as death. There was a warmth in his presence that filled an empty ache.
But not this past night. There had been distance, anger, and disgust. He’d yelled at her. His fury had been so great even now she felt chilled with it.
She opened her eyes and stared at the notepad in front of her. She hadn’t just written words. She’d sketched out faces of people she’d never met and monsters the likes of which she’d never seen.
She stared at each of the faces she’d drawn, studying their features for something that would trigger her memories again. The notebook was filled with sketches and none of them meant anything to her. Allof them set against twisted, scarred landscapes.
Some of them appeared more than others, like the old woman and the two guys. Even on paper, the woman’s smile had a decidedly mischievous bent to it, as though she was laughing and Lee had no idea why. The men were polar opposites, one pale, one dark. One looked like an angel and the other had the devil’s smile. Both of them were enough to make a girl’s heart skip a beat but if the man she dreamed of was one of them, she didn’t know which one he was.
Furious with herself, Lee hurled the pad of paper across the room and watched as it hit the wall. It slid to the ground, several of the pages bent and crumpled. With a scowl, she climbed out of the bed and stalked to the bathroom.
“He isn’t real,” she told herself as she turned the hot water on full before turning to tug off her t-shirt. “He isn’t real.” He’s not, her mind insisted, even though something inside her heart argued.
Her reflection caught her eye and she stilled, fighting the impulse to turn and look. Damn it, she was going to take all the mirrors down. She couldn’t not look, when the mirrors were there.
But every time she saw a bruise, a chill ran through her. It was no different this time. Her eye was black, swollen, raw looking it. It had been fine last night. And today,she looked like she had a bruise that had been healing for days. Her mouth trembled as she tried to make sense of what she was looking at.
The doctors had tried to tell her she was doing it to herself. They had even done a sleepstudy, and watched her all night long to determine what caused the bruising.
The study had revealed nothing. And everything.
For when she walked out of the room where they had monitored her body all night, her ankle was swollen, twisted and discolored. It had been fine the night before.
The tape of the study had shown her laying quietly on the narrow bunk, never once rising in the night. She didn’t toss. She didn’t turn. The only weird thing was a blip in the middle of the tape that lasted no more than a few eye blinks. For that brief span of time, the bed was empty. But she hadn’t gotten out of thebed. The probes and lines weren’t long enough to allow her to leave it without one of the attendants disconnecting them. They hadn’t done it.
Odder still, an attendant had been in the room during theblip. They could see him at the edge ofthe screen. But he’d never seen her move. She hadn’t done any more studies after that. Even though the doctors tried to urge her to agree, it had simply unsettled her too much. So no more studies. She’d just deal with looking like the loser of a boxing match.
Lee leaned forward and probed her eye, touching it gently,wincing at the tender flesh she encountered under her fingers. The eye itself looked fine, which was a relief. There had been one morning when she woke up and her pupil had been blown. Her vision had been blurred and the sickening pain made her think she had a concussion. By nightfall, though, the pupil had returned to normal and her vision was fine.
Today, her eyes seemed a little more bloodshot than usual and the red looked unnaturally bright against the nasty mottled blue. Almost festive, the red, white and blue.
There was another bruise on her knee, like she had fallen down. The flesh was sensitive and each step she took sent pain shooting through her knee. Much as the knee hurt, it was actually a rather light night. Lee knew from experience, though, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Light nights seemed to be followed by bad ones.
Her gut churned as that thought circled through her head. Bad ones came with concussions,broken bones—even burns. It had been awhile since she’d had a real bad night and it was like a little mental clock was ticking away the time. It wouldn’t be much longer before she woke up one morning hurt so bad that she’d wish for death, just to get away from the pain.
Even if she did heal fast, pain was still pain and she was tired of feeling so much of it.
“Morbid, much?” she muttered as she turned away from her reflection. She climbed into the shower with one goal in mind. Shower…then caffeine. With caffeine, she could face almost anything.
* * * * *
Through the Veil, Kalen could see her. Stubborn little bitch. He could still just faintly smell the sweet scent of her skin and his hands still itched to feel that satiny skin under his hands, to feel the silk of her hair brush against his body. The vivid bruise on her face infuriated him,even though her rapid ability to heal was already lessening the vivid color and the swelling.
The demon that had attacked her was dead. Dust in the wind. Not that Kalen had anything to do with it. Lee had taken damn good care of it herself. She was good at that. Always had been. Scowling, he wondered if maybe she was a little too good at it. Good at taking care of herself, good at rationalizing away problems, good at everything.
Clenching his jaw, he turned away from the Veil and prepared himself to face the coming day without her. It was a frightening thought. But it always had been. One never knew what the day might bring. Not in this world.
There had been another demon attack, this time high up in the mountains, striking the small settlement of families living there. They had refused to come down into the valley. Too close to the Roinan Gate. It was as if they thought a few miles would protect them. They had been wrong, terribly wrong and Kalen had to live with the guilt of not trying harder.
Raviners had killed the few men and taken their time with the women and children. It brought back memories too ugly for him to dwell on, staring at the their remains. He couldn’t even take a little bit of comfort in knowing that his men had slaughtered the Raviners. If he had taken them down himself, filling their bodies with the dangerous power of the pulsar he carried at his hip, it wouldn’t have been any comfort.
They were losing a little more ground every day. The demons were breeding in his world now and they didn’t just have to wait for the Roinan Gate to open for more of their numbers. There had been a time when finding a clutch of demons had been a rare occurrence and they were killed quickly, if not always easily.
They might have a ghost of a chance if they could shut down the fucking Gate.