It’s been quite a week, as I actually had an interview and started a new job, all since last Thursday! I’ve been searching for a new job for….four years now (??), and when the search (along with everything else) got harder during the pandemic, I got to the point where I never thought I’d find one. But someone’s finally given me a chance, and I started this past Wednesday (*insert amazed scream*). This meant I was a bit scatterbrained when it came to this week’s Writer in Motion round, but I hope I helped my CPs as much as they helped me!
I always appreciate getting feedback on my writing, and my CPs were wonderful in their encouragement and their suggestions. The biggest one was how to end it, since my original version had quite the cliffhanger, and I wanted to find a way to resolve it that was still intriguing. Without further ado, here’s the latest version of my short story, after incorporating their feedback! (And see Week 1 and Week 2 here to see how it’s evolved.)
SULPHUR & SMOKE
Living in a big city means witnessing all kinds of strange things, and Paris is no exception. If you’ve lived several lifetimes like I have, you’ve probably seen and done even stranger things. But when this man stopped short in front of me with preternatural grace and a fervent grin, it set my teeth on edge.
“Excuse me,” I muttered, shuffling around him and trying to avoid his gaze.
As smoke pooled around his face and under his hood, ice flooded my veins. He reached up to catch the tendrils, to shape them, and in the process remake his features.
For that’s what his kind did, and had done, for centuries.
I didn’t know how he’d found me here, since I’d spent years covering my tracks, never staying in one place for too long. Yet as that unmistakable stench of sulphur and acrid burning filled my nose, I instinctively tensed.
I didn’t wait to see what new form his face had taken. I sprinted down the block, dodging bistro tables and passersby. He was not so considerate. People screamed and shouted, and the sour smoke somehow still assaulted my senses as he gained on me. My chest ached, but I pushed harder, willing my legs faster. His wry voice found me next, its silky tenor shivering down my neck.
“After all these years, this is the greeting I get?”
One of the smoke tendrils caressed my cheek, and I shuddered. I turned a corner, my shoes skidding on the rain-slickened pavement, and plowed through a tour group marvelling at the surroundings. The exterior of the Louvre was always a formidable sight, but it was nothing compared to the shifter on my heels. He grabbed my arm and yanked me to a stop.
“Come now,” he whispered, his voice resonating deep in my core, “I only wish to speak with you.” His face had morphed into a different man’s, all sharp angles and dark stubbled jaw. But his eyes were the same as the day I met him—a deep brown with blazing embers at the center.
I twisted out of his grasp. “So you can spellbind me again?”
He unfurled a slow smile. “That was a fun few decades, wasn’t it?” His fingers brushed aside my hair, and I flinched away.
The tour group was gawping at us now, so he led me down a side alley away from any onlookers, or any mortals. My pulse throbbed, and I still tasted his bitter smoke on my tongue, but I couldn’t pull free again. He was too strong, too consumed with purpose, of which I wanted no part. Amongst the bins and trash bags, he stopped, his eyes softer than I’d ever seen.
“I’ve been searching for you for so long,” he said, achingly, wistfully.
I couldn’t look away, couldn’t escape the fathomless depths of those brimstone eyes. He hadn’t lost his gift for revealing only the briefest flashes of vulnerability, made all the more alluring for their rarity. But the age-old anger flared within me. I’d been running from him for so long, I couldn’t lose myself to his charms so soon.
“After what you did to me,” I hissed, “I never wanted to see you again. Ever.”
“Now, now,” he said, wryness creeping back into his voice, his smile, “You didn’t hate every moment. You took to your magic—and your immortality— with great enthusiasm. You’re a natural, as I always said. And I could still teach you so much more. Like this…” He trailed his long elegant hand in the air between us and conjured more smoke, the gentle iridescence hinting at its feature-morphing capabilities.
A spark of yearning flickered in me to finish my training, and learn how to change my appearance at will. But I knew that madness lay that way, and I needed to end this conversation and flee before I lost all reason.
“What do you want?” I asked, gritting my teeth.
He took my hand and stroked my palm with his thumb, his skin cool and smooth. The burning embers in his eyes clouded over, until he looked almost…normal.
“I need your help.”
My breath caught at the gentleness in his gaze, his touch. I pulled away, my brow furrowing at this shift in the haughty immortal who I’d known for centuries. Who plucked me from nothing and showed me how to unravel magic from the very matter around us, how to bend time to my will and survive for as long as I wished—and how to really, truly, finally live. But for all the wonders he’d bestowed upon me, there was a price, and I’d refused to pay his any longer.
Yet here he was, asking for my help.
I squinted at the wavering outline of his handsome features. I’d never fully trusted him, and after what he’d done, there was no forgiveness left in me. But damn if there wasn’t still some curiosity.
The breeze strengthened, and the shifter gasped as his body began to dissolve. With a grimace, and considerable magical effort, he re-materialised, holding himself together as if another gust might scatter him into ashes. His hand found mine again, his eyes pleading.
“He’s back. And my power is waning.”
The city of lights seemed to swirl around me, and the man of shadow in front of me—once the most solid thing in my life—was ghosting before my eyes. Immortality had its own price after all.
I clenched my jaw. “I’ll help, on one condition.”
“Name it.” He always thrilled at making a pact, but this one would be on my terms.
“You’ll teach me everything,” I whispered. “I mean it. Everything.”
He chuckled, but with more awe than mirth. “Insatiable as always.” He wrapped his arm around me. “Deal.”
I stepped into the enveloping warmth of his embrace, and the maelstrom of smoke emanating from him. As the soft grey fog took me, and my sight darkened, his brimstone eyes blazed once more.