Paradise Chapter 2
Chapter 2: Violation
"Hello there," said a voice, deep and resonant. "Don't let me interrupt."
Sky scrambled up tight against Ember, his heart pounding hard against hers. He wrapped an arm around her shoulder. She searched for her dress, which seemed to have dissolved into the ground.
"Who are you?" said Ember.
The huge, shadowy figure moved forward. Fear paralyzing her, Sky saw that it a man, clothed in darkness, long hair the color of evening flowing over his shoulders.
He stepped into the pool toward them, and Sky fought off a scream.
His feet sank into the dark water below the hem of his robe so he looked like he was floating. He walked casually over to them, rippling through the smooth glass of the water. He stopped just at the edge of the bank, looking down at them, his eyes shreds of midnight without stars. His head tipped sideways ever so slightly. "You can call me Char. Yes, that should do for now." He stepped out of the pool. The water seemed to absorb into his robe and dry as soon as he left it. "You don't need to be afraid of me. I'm just the shadow of what I once was. I have been here alone for what seems like centuries…or perhaps only minutes. But now you are here." A smile spread across his face. He crouched down, his arms crossed over his knees. "What you just did looked amazing. Can you teach it to me?"
"You—saw us?" said Ember, horror in his voice.
"Oh, yes. It seems like it would be a pleasant diversion after….so much solitude…..nothingness….Hello, pretty one." He reached out toward Sky, and she flinched away. He didn't touch her, but she felt his coldness.
Ember pressed her to his chest, his hand in her hair, trembling. "Don't touch her!"
Char sat back, a rueful look on his face. "I forgot how you humans have your constricting taboos. I'd ask you instead of her, but I doubt you'd consent any more than she would. Besides, I seem to prefer women….although I've never actually made love….just watched from afar." He sighed dramatically. "If you're not up for that, we could always talk. I do like to talk. I could show you my world….Yes?"
"I—I think we will be heading home soon," said Ember. "It's dark and we've stayed longer than we should—"
"Nonsense! You just got here. There is so much to see." He gestured toward the twisting black vines across the field. "Of course, I've seen it all, so I'm a bit bored, but if I have someone to share it with…."
A hungry longing shadowed his dark eyes. A shiver ran through her. Would he let them leave? It hardly seemed worth it to stay any longer. They wouldn't be able to do anything with someone watching, least of all this strange, darkly powerful being. They hadn't reckoned on an intruder in their paradise. Who was he? Could he be Winged, like their nonhuman ancestors? One that had fallen from grace, perhaps…. Banished to this world that was supposed to be uninhabited….
"Where did you come from?" she said, voice shaking, marveling at the fact she was able to speak at all.
"Oh, here and there. Actually I might as well tell you. I had a…disagreement with my family, and they imprisoned me here. It's a pleasant prison—but even a paradise can be punishment if you're alone."
"Are you—" she whispered, hardly daring to speak the word—"Winged?"
His eyes flashed. "Does it look like I have wings?" Dark sparks danced across his skin. Sky buried her face in Ember's chest, wishing more than anything she had clothes on.
"Sorry. I suppose I used to fly…in a way….but that's been taken from me. You're asking if I'm this being called a Winged. We are called many things on many worlds—most just call us gods. I've never heard that term myself, but then, I haven't been to all the worlds. Where are you from that you'd dare to call us something other than gods?"
"We are Royalty," said Ember. "The Winged had children with humans, creating a race of rulers. They left us a long time ago and have never returned. If you are one of them….."
"Perhaps I am. When you were making love, I saw that you have powers that no normal human has, powers similar to mine. I wonder why your ancestors left you. If I had children, I would not abandon them." He held out a hand. "If I am one of these Winged, I am family. Would you come with me, just for a little while? Then you can return home. It's a shame to leave this world when you just arrived."
"We'd better get going," said Ember. "It's been nice to meet you but—" He rose, keeping Sky against him, searching for their clothes. Char stood, towering over them, about nine feet into the air.
"Looking for these?" Char held up some fabric, lavender and purple. Their clothes, as if they'd magically appeared in his hands. Ember reached for them. Char snatched them away.
Ember gently pushed Sky behind him. Lightning crackled down his arms. "Please, let us leave."
"Or what?" Char laughed, the sound ringing across the clearing. His hand darted out and grabbed Ember's arm. Ember's lightning snapped against Char's skin, then receded, disappearing completely. Char rasped into Ember's ear, so low that Sky could barely hear it, "You don't want to do that, my friend. You could not harm me, but to merely go up against me—I could crush you. But I don't want to do that. I want us to be friends. Family. Is that so much to ask?"
Char released Ember's arm, and Ember withdrew it, looking shaken. Sky went up to him. His skin was cold, as if his lightning had been frozen inside him.
Char handed Ember the clothes. "I'm sorry. I want you to be happy. If it makes you happy to leave, so be it." Sadness crossed his face.
Ember handed Sky her dress. "You couldn't give us some privacy, could you?" he said.
Char laughed. "I've already seen it all. You humans have such strange customs. Very well." He turned his back to them. Gratefulness spread through Sky. She trembled as she put on the dress, Ember helping her with it, lacing it up the back. Then he tugged on his pants. She helped him slide the shirt over his head.
Char turned around. "Look at you. All dressed up." He reached for Ember's shirt, fingering it. "Such fine material. You must be Royalty." He put a hand on Ember's shoulder. "You don't mind if I accompany you back to your vehicle, do you?"
"Actually, we'd like to be alone, if it's all the same to you."
A grin spread across Char's face, this time showing sharp white teeth. "I insist."
Sky didn't know what they could do to resist him. He was bigger, stronger than them—he had some sort of dark lightning. If he was Winged, he would have incredible power….
Thoughts slogged through her mind. She was still in shock from the stranger's appearance. She didn't even want to think that he'd been watching them—the violation of what only she and Ember should share. Still, she didn't know if this being had bad intentions—he didn't adhere to human customs, after all. He seemed to be letting them go—hopefully he'd live up to his word.
They walked back through the forest of flowers, the bells looming on their stalks. Somehow they looked sinister rather than beautiful—pale, fleshy things that drooped over her with menacing mouths. The paradise had been ruined; she needed to get home, safe in Ember's arms, away from this powerful intruder.
Char walked beside them with a restless grace. All the while he spoke in his smooth, deep, rather hypnotic voice, describing the world that they had not seen. It sounded beautiful, but she had not come here to share it with anything other than Ember. Horror shot through her when she thought of what Char had suggested so casually. She would never let another man possess her…she was Ember's…to even think of another man touching her filled her with revulsion. No one would be like him—no one would be gentle, think of her own needs, give her such love….She laced her arm in his, not wanting to let him go, not till they were safe and sound…but not even a paradise was safe….hopefully they'd be safe at home….
Ember stopped. "It's gone!"
Sky looked. The clearing where they'd landed their shuttlecar—empty.
The car had disappeared, as if into thin air.
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