The Giving and the Taking


Genre: fantasy
Language: English
Length: 926 words
Year: 2021

The underbelly of the city swallowed all, sounds and light alike. There was nothing down there with them except darkness. Darkness, and the distant, murmuring, maddening echo of running water that came streaming down from some hidden nook in the monumental structures up above. It muted the sounds of all footsteps, friendly and unfriendly alike. Even the turmoil of the city above, as though the riots were happening in a different world altogether.

Luuneyd sat with her back against Zirekel’s, the muted gleam of her magic pulsing into life every now and then like glowing embers. It momentarily illuminated the enormous grate built into the floor beneath them. Zirekel stared into the darkness, stiff as a statue, sword in hand. An orc’s eyes alone were made for this velvety darkness, yet even she couldn’t see more than outlines. The underground cities were pockets of bioluminescent twilight, pulsing with life and the hum of songs, not truly dark the way natural caverns were dark.

Giendei shuddered as a drop of water, then another wormed its way under the collar of his coat. The dampness was worse in the guard tower overlooking the ancient sluice gate below, but what remained of the tower’s walls gave him some minor semblance of comfort nonetheless. He couldn’t escape the unpleasant thought that the river winding through the city lay directly above them, and that the river bottom – the ceiling above their heads – was leaking. He started as the shape next to him stirred.

“It’s just me,” Theodius’s voice said to his left. His voice sounded like a whisper over the rushing of water, though he wasn’t even trying to muffle his voice. He shifted again, trying to find a more comfortable position in the cramped space.

“Did you manage to sleep?”

Giendei thought he heard Theodius chuckle.

“It’s not the best inn in the city, but it’ll do.” Theodius paused. “I feel rested enough. Let me try again.”

Even here his presence was comforting, and Giendei couldn’t help leaning in as Theodius took his hand and laced their fingers together tightly. He knew to expect the sensation already and did nothing more than inhale sharply as a familiar tingle like needles and pins started where they were touching. It ran up his arm, onto his shoulders, jaw, ears. He tasted it on his tongue, the channelling; the faintest hint of taint in this connection between the two sources, laced with something acidic and tart. He heard Theodius murmuring in the nordling tongue, and his hand merely brushed over the bandaged cut on Giendei’s thigh. Giendei could feel his skin shift, struggling to pull itself together – it hurt almost as badly as the sword that had made the cut had.

He didn’t realise he’d been holding his breath until Theodius slumped against his shoulder, the flow between them severed. The cut on his leg still stung, but in the way a week old wound stung after the scab was almost gone and pale scar tissue took its place.

“You all right?” Theodius asked in hushed tones.

“That should be my question,” Giendei answered.

“I take that as a ‘yes’.”

Theodius’s voice was a low growl in the common tongue, weary from the magic. The sound of it sent Giendei’s heart racing in ways he didn’t dare think about.

“I couldn’t heal it completely. The cut went deeper than I thought.”

“You did more than enough. Thank you,” Giendei said. There were many more words wanting to spill out of his mouth, but he couldn’t find his voice. He knew what Theodius meant, he knew what healing demanded of him. There was a limit to how much a mage could draw from another source. Giendei had felt it in the thread connecting him and Theodius, the resistance, an entire pool of magic only yielding drops at a time where they would normally be a flood.

Theodius hadn’t let go of his hand. He gave it a squeeze, his skin cold against Giendei’s warmth as though the channelling had sapped something more out of him. Giendei could just make out the outlines of his face close to his own, the gleam of Theodius’s eyes in the dark. Giendei swallowed. He couldn’t help thinking back to what his mouth tasted like, wondering if his lips would be soft and warm or cold and rough against his own right now. Both thoughts were equally enthralling.

“Giendei,” Theodius murmured, the syllables jumbled, slurred. His free hand brushed against Giendei’s face as he scooted closer, practically sinking into him. The kiss they shared was long and breathless, and when they broke away to breathe Theodius just clung to him. There was a light tremor to his arms that was not from the cold.

“You need rest,” Giendei said quietly.

When Theodius didn’t react, Giendei reached for the backpack pushed against the wall and pulled out a travelling cloak, wrinkly and still partially damp. He spread it on the floor as best as he could, lied down on it and said, “here. I’ll be right beside you.”

It was a testament to how exhausted Theodius was that he didn’t try to make light of it. He just crawled into Giendei’s arms and laid his head on his chest.

“I’ll keep watch,” Giendei whispered into his hair. “Just sleep.”

“I know.” Theodius blinked once, eyelids too heavy with sleep for a second blink. He tried to string words together; he was asleep before he’d finished saying, “you…”

You keep me safe.’

The thought faded half-formed into blackness, swallowed by slumber.

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