Freebie Fridays: Some Form of Blasphemy

Freebie Fridays: Some Form of Blasphemy

When I asked my Facebook group which character they’d like to hear more about, they almost unanimously chose Rose.

After my Seven Deadly Domerins series, I played around with the idea of another series of Heavenly Virtues prompts. I only ever did one in the past, and they’re an interesting group of traits to consider. But I write a lot about Domerin (as you may have noticed) so I wanted to dedicate the project to someone else. At first, I wasn’t sure if I had enough available Roses to make it work. No one has quite as many incarnations as Domerin. But after considerable thought, I managed to find just enough.

The first Heavenly Rose featured the virtue of chastity. The next one tackled humility. Next came patience, followed by temperance.

Next up is kindness, defined as: the state or quality of being kind; of a good or benevolent nature or disposition; indulgent, considerate, or helpful. (Fun fact: this is the virtue I originally assigned to Rose when I did the first series of 7 Heavenly Virtues.)

This is a concept that has been kicking around in my head for awhile. It links the stories of witchy Rose with my Modern Fantasy setting. I’ve chewed over whether or not it makes sense to make this canon for some time. But ultimately, I saw no harm in writing it. This has been my favorite of the 7 Heavenly Roses so far, so I’m glad I went for it.
. . .

Things had changed since his mistress reversed the spell that allowed Crescent to become human during the full moon. He had changed.

Perhaps life was merely simpler for a cat. He hunted. He prowled. He protected the mistress’s territory. And when she needed assistance with her magic, he allowed the arcane power to flow through him, directing it in ways no human could master.

Being a cat meant lazing in the bright sunlight of the early afternoon, and grooming his fur on the edge of the pond out back where his presence neatly disturbed the fish. As a cat, he chased birds from the tree branches, and wove through flower stalks while his mistress gardened, and he never worried about what lay beyond her borders.

Since Crescent started spending the majority of his time as a man, he had been plagued by feelings. As a cat, he would have noted these odd intuitions, examined them during one of his lazy sprawls, then filed them away for whatever action seemed prudent. As a man, he couldn’t ignore them. They clawed at him, insisting that he act immediately, or drown in the force of the draw.

There were no right decisions or best decisions anymore. There was only the warrior and the time Crescent spent with him on the road. Domerin didn’t do a lot of talking, so Crescent found himself filling the empty space with words of his own. He liked it best when he could make the stoic man smile; a rare and delightful occurrence indeed. And as long as they had only been talking, things had made sense.

But it had only taken a dozen nights of camping with the warrior for Crescent’s draw to shift. The ache beneath his skin grew stronger with each passing hour, and he no longer trusted himself to take the right course of action. He checked the map his mistress had given him every night by the light of the fire and every morning beneath the dazzling rays of sunlight. He was sure they were on the right physical path, headed toward the end his mistress had warned the man about.

As for everything else…

“Complicated,” Crescent muttered to himself as he lifted a heavy branch out of his path and ducked beneath the dangling leaves. “Too complicated.”

And he had no one to blame but himself. It wasn’t the warrior who batted eyelashes at him, made soft cooing sounds or inched closer whenever they paused to share a meal. Crescent had done all of that.

But he thrilled so when he felt the warrior’s skin against his. The soft touch of fingers with no fur to guard against them was intoxicating. Crescent found himself wishing for longer nights. He wished they dared delay their journey so they could detour to an inn and spend a proper night together; eat hearty fare at a tavern and share a real bed instead of gnawing dried rations and then huddling into their shared bedrolls.

Not that it really mattered. Proximity was the same no matter the location, and Crescent got the impression that Domerin would have to be different among townsfolk than he was in the wild. He was a knight of the realm, after all, which meant he had certain duties to uphold.

Why had the witch sent him alone? Crescent wondered as he knelt beside the lake. It glimmered dimly beneath the sliver of moon crescent that hung in the sky amidst a bed of glittering stars. If she had come, there would be no need to give him hands to help the warrior most days of the month. And she would have been able to keep him from making all the horrible mistakes he had made along the way.

Not that they felt like mistakes. The idea of going back and changing the last few months made Crescent ache. To never feel Domerin’s skin pressed against his skin, to never taste his lips, or join with him… that seemed a travesty he couldn’t bear.

But he had made a contract with the witch way in the long ago, when he was still just a kitten. And though he looked like a man, he was still her familiar. That bond couldn’t be broken just because he found someone that made him long for a life beyond the walls of her hut. And he didn’t even know what awaited Domerin at the end of his journey. To ask for release now, to abandon the sacred vows he had given  – even if he couldn’t remember them – might well lead him to ruin if Domerin didn’t survive his ordeal.

Yet none of it seemed to matter. No matter how things played out on the road, or at its end, he could no longer deny how he felt. Not even when the moon made him a cat.

Crescent set his hands on his knees and leaned forward, peering into the dark mirror of the water’s surface. “Mistress,” he croaked, his voice thick with emotions he wasn’t sure he could name, “I need to speak with you.”

The wind whispered through the trees behind him, shuffling the leaves and sending a series of light ripples across the surface of the lake. Below the movement, a dim light appeared. It was golden as a drop of lemon and grew brighter as it ascended from the depths. When it reached the surface, it spread, calming the ripples, forming a perfect circle of illumination. And within that shimmer, Crescent’s reflection disappeared, replaced by the familiar face of his witch.

He breathed a soft sigh of deepest relief and almost deflated on the lakeshore. “Mistress,” he breathed, “thank goodness you answered!”

“But of course, I answered, my love. When have I ever left you to fend for yourself?” She smiled that knowing, amused smirk that only a witch could answer and nodded her distant head. “What is it that troubles you, darling? Has something gone wrong?”

“I… believe it has,” Crescent admitted, hanging his head.

“Were you attacked?” the witch asked, instantly concerned. “Injured? Waylaid on the road?”

“We weren’t attacked,” Crescent replied, shaking his head. “Domerin could easily have dealt with that.”

“Indeed,” the witch replied, her tone somewhat dry.

Crescent stiffened when she turned an expectant look in his direction. She wanted to know what was wrong. Perhaps she even suspected what he had done. He licked his lips, which had suddenly gone dry as sand, and tried to summon the words to articulate his dilemma.

“I… I fear I may have disobeyed your orders, my lady. You sent me to guide the warrior on his quest and I… I may have done a few… other things as well.”

Crescent had imagined many responses to his confession, but none matched the one he received. The witch snorted, that knowing smirk returning to her lips as she leaned forward. “I don’t recall expressly forbidding you to sleep with him, dear.”

Crescent’s cheeks flamed red. He had never felt such embarrassment. It wasn’t exactly shame – he didn’t regret what he had done, though maybe that was part of the problem. As a cat, he had always been able to school his expressions, keep his true emotions hidden. But as a man, he seemed to wear them on his face. Which was why he wouldn’t have been able to rebuff the warrior, even if he had tried. His desires had been written into his flesh from the beginning, and Domerin seemed particularly good at reading those sorts of signals.

“You sent me to do a job, Mistress. And I’m woefully distracted. I can’t… I can’t seem to stop thinking about him. To stop wanting him. I-“

“There’s no crime in your desires, love,” the witch interrupted, her tone soft and soothing.

“But how can I fulfill my duties when he fills my mind so?”

“I suspect you’ll manage,” the witch replied, seeming to consider the matter closed.

“Won’t you come?” Crescent demanded before she could vanish from sight.

“No,” she said without hesitation. “This is your journey as much as it is his. Why do you think I sent you?”

“Then won’t you at least set me back?” Tears welled in his eyes when he said it, but he knew he had to. As a cat, he and the warrior couldn’t be together, but he could at least do as he had been bid.

“You don’t really want that,” the witch said. Then she narrowed her eyes and added, “Do you?”

Crescent pressed his lips into a thin line. He knew he should say yes. As soon as his mistress made him a cat, everything would be okay again. It didn’t matter that his last two transformations had done nothing to quell the rising tide of his desires. If he were to return to his natural form – as he would have to someday – both he and Domerin would have to live with the consequences. He would be human only during the full moon. And who could ever accept a relationship like that?

But he had long since learned the futility of lying to his witch. She would read it in his face and in his voice if he spoke falsely. And then she truly would chide him. At length, he shook his head.

“But won’t you at least tell me why?” he breathed. A single tear escaped the confines of his right eye and slid the length of his cheek. “Why you sent me out here like this?”

She hesitated. In all the time Crescent had known his witch, he had only seen her hesitate once before, when an action had pained her deeply. That, too, had been the request of a familiar – though not her own. Yet, suddenly, Crescent wondered how similar the two situations were.

“Call to me on the night of the full moon, when our connection is strongest,” she said at last, her voice strangely flat. “If your mind has not changed, I will tell you everything you wish to know.”

*   *   *

“I should have told you sooner.” The words burned Rose’s tongue. Not because witches didn’t like to be wrong – though it was true that they preferred to be right. Because the truth behind that simple statement was so powerful it almost burned her heart to ash.

People had a tendency to hold on to things they cherished well past the time to set them free. Mothers smothered their children all the time, simply because they couldn’t stand the idea of an empty nest. The world outside their walls was cruel and uncaring, so why send their children into its stormy seas? Lovers also tended to close their fists around relationships gone rotten, in hopes of recapturing days of faded glory. Rose had seen it dozens of times, yet she hadn’t been able to avoid doing it herself.

“Told me what?” her familiar asked, his voice deeper and rougher now that he once again wore his cat form.

The witch hesitated, closing her eyes for the briefest of moments. In the momentary darkness, a hundred memories flashed across the dark backs of her eyelids. Memories she could never forget, though they grew more distant with each passing year. Oh to be able to go back to any one of them! To hold that warmth once again within her grasp! But the steady march of years drew her forward and even her magic didn’t have the strength to turn back the clock.

She sighed and did what any witch would have done in that situation; answered the question with one of her own. “How do you really feel, Crescent? Tell me everything. Leave nothing out.”

Crescent hesitated. But in his cat form, it must be easier for him to see the logic of trusting the entire emotional tangle to his companion than it would have been if he had worn the flesh of a man. Passion and fear would have driven him to silence, as it had driven him to stammering before. It was that, more than anything, which made her choose this night to share her revelation.

“I feel as if I know him,” her familiar admitted, his voice barely more than a breath on the wind. “Not in the way two friends come to know each other because they’ve shared the road – or each other’s beds. It’s deeper than that. I feel as if I have always known him. As if I have always… loved him. I feel as if he is a part of me. But I never met him until he rode up to your hut. How could I? He grew up on the other side of the world. And the day he came to seek your assistance was the first time he had ever spoken with a witch. He swore to me it was so and I cannot believe he would lie.”

Rose nodded, fighting to keep her face calm even as she swallowed a tangle of her own emotions. “Everything you say is truth,” she said softly, but with strong conviction. “You know the warrior Domerin Lorcasf. And you just met him.”

These were the sorts of statements that earned witches a reputation for being overly cryptic. And had Crescent been an ordinary human, he probably would have sighed with disgust. But because he had spent the last century or so as her familiar, he was familiar with the kind of double, twisted logic she dealt with on a regular basis. And he accepted that both statements could be true, though he couldn’t understand how it was possible.

The cat indicated this with a single nod, then waited silently for her to go on.

It might have been easier if he railed.

Rose drew a deep breath. “We have talked many times about the worlds that lay beyond the veil, have we not?”

Again, the cat nodded.

“Well, love, neither you nor I were born in this world. I brought the two of us here for a reason.” She hesitated. But she had no choice but to go on. “Do you remember how you became my familiar?”

This time, the cat shook his head. “I was too young,” he said. “Just a kitten.”

Rose mirrored his gesture, spilling her dark hair across her shoulders. “No, Crescent. But I’m not surprised you don’t remember. That was my doing. And maybe, someday, you’ll forgive me for the necessity. I’ve weakened the spell so your memories should be able to start leaking through. But I fear the rush would overwhelm you if I simply removed the choke.”

“What memories?” If Crescent had been human, he would have been glaring at her. As it was, he looked spectacularly annoyed – an easy expression for a cat to master.

The witch’s answering smile was bittersweet. “Memories of the life you lived before I brought you here. Of the man you loved – and lost. A warrior, by the name of Domerin Lorcasf.”

Crescent’s eyes shifted rapidly from side to side, as if seeking a predator that had just stepped into his territory. He rose onto all fours and his fur puffed out. His raised tail swelled nearly three times its normal size and he bore his teeth as a shiver seemed to run through him.

“How did I lose this great love of mine?” he demanded, his voice choked in a way that suggested he already knew the answer. Already, Rose could see the flicker of memory and recognition in the cat’s jade eyes. It was coming back to him, and the worst of it first.

“He died,” she said softly, bowing her head. “In battle, as most warriors do.”

Crescent hissed, perhaps in denial. But no amount of anger or sorrow could change the truth; Rose had learned to accept that long ago.

“Before that, you were his and he was yours. You never married; neither of you cared much for that sort of thing. But it didn’t matter. You belonged to each other as surely as if your souls were bound by the gods. You spent many happy years together. Raised a family. Lived your dreams-“

“You were there,” Crescent growled, though it didn’t sound like an accusation. “I see you with us in my memories.”

“Yes,” Rose admitted, a hint of that knowing smirk returning to her lips. “I was a big part of your lives. Big enough that I wept when you lost Domerin. It broke my heart to watch you wither while you mourned him. You became a shadow of yourself, less than half a man. It would have happened to either of you. That is the nature of love like yours. And I couldn’t help feeling it was at least partly my fault. I had put a spell on Domerin, you see. A spell that protected him. It lasted so long, I thought it would hold forever, make certain that I could save him whenever he got into trouble. But it didn’t. By the time I felt the spell break, it was too late. We had lost him.”

Crescent lowered his tail. His fur was returning to its natural shape, but his ears were still pressed flat against the back of his head, a sure sign of his remaining agitation. “Though I cannot remember what you speak of, my instincts tell me that you are being too hard on yourself. If you tried to save someone, you would have put all your strength and effort into it. If you failed, the fault would not lie at your feet.”

Rose closed her eyes against the sting of tears. “Thank you,” she replied, her voice groan hoarse with emotion. “I can only hope you feel the same way when you remember the full scope of the truth. In any case, your love was lost and you were fading. I loved you enough that I couldn’t bear it, Crescent. I desperately wanted to make you whole again, but knew Domerin was the only person who could do it.

“So I searched the worlds for one where he lived but you did not. It’s probably some form of blasphemy for which I will one day pay dearly, but I didn’t care. You needed him, so I found him for you. I locked your memories before we stepped through the portal, so that you could live in some form of happiness until the time came. I had to do a lot of guessing… My intuition isn’t what it used to be. It took longer than I anticipated. But I always intended to release you when he appeared.”

“Release me?” Crescent replied, a new form of distress in his voice.

Rose swallowed a pang of regret and shook her head. “There will be time to talk of it later, love. When your journey is over, if you wish it, you need no longer serve a duty to me. You have more than filled it. And by the time this last task is done, I think you will be close to your old self again.”

Silence stretched between them a long time. Crescent knew her well enough to trust that everything she said was true, and that was no small blessing. But it didn’t soften the blow of knowing that she had lied to him, that she might have had to keep on lying to him if the warrior hadn’t appeared in her garden a few months prior. It didn’t soften the sense of loss that grew in her as Crescent’s affections shifted to the newcomer, as the old bond between lovers snapped back into place.

Knowing that something would happen and living it always turned out to be very different things.

“Tell me one thing,” Crescent said at last. His fur once again lay flat against his body and his ears were perked forward with curiosity. “I can see you brought me here as a kindness. And for that, I am truly grateful. But I can’t help wondering… worrying… Will I lose him again?”

There was more than a little desperation in that question, and it cut straight through the witch’s soul. Especially when Rose was forced to shake her head and admit, “I don’t know. I pushed my vision to the limit to find him, Crescent. Perhaps my punishment for breaking the law of the veil is that I’ll never be able to see what fate truly awaits you. Every story ends in death, sooner or later. But who’s or when – that, I cannot say.”

Her familiar nodded. “Thank you for telling me the truth.”

“Thank you,” Rose replied, her voice husky, “for not hating me now that you know it.”

*   *   *

Crescent navigated the woods with shocking ease in the wake of the meeting with his mistress. The moon was more than bright enough to light his path and his eyes were more than keen enough to penetrate the shadows.

But his heart was heavy with the new knowledge the witch had imparted to him, and he didn’t know if he would have the strength to carry it when the full extent of the truth opened to him. He had seen enough flashes of Domerin’s face to know the witch spoke true. But he didn’t know if he’d ever dare tell the new warrior about the old one. Similar though they looked and acted, they were different men. Crescent knew both of them well enough to know that.

Different, but the same. That must have been why the witch brought him here.

In some ways, it was a relief to know that she had always intended for him to bow to the passions that filled his human days. But this was a change he had not anticipated. And he had come to love his life with the witch in the shelter of her hut and its surrounding grove. Change was frightening, even for a cat. Even if it meant getting something he truly wanted.

He padded silently back into the small clearing where he and Domerin had made camp. The warrior was still curled beneath his bedroll, unaware of his companion’s absence. When Crescent wore his human form, they slept together in a tangle of limbs. But when the full moon lit the sky, Crescent curled somewhere atop the blankets, trusting his fur to protect him from the chill.

The moment he looked upon Domerin’s face a rush of images swept over him. Most of them involved the same face sleeping, often peaceful but sometimes marred by silent agony.

He understood now why he loved this man, and why their bond had formed so quickly. But it pained his soul that his joy must be tempered by some long ago, half-forgotten loss.

Careful not to wake the warrior, Crescent stepped over his arms and legs, navigating his sleeping position until he stood beside Domerin’s head. He dipped his small, furred body and let his scratchy tongue slide across the warrior’s cheek before deciding it would be better to rub his cheek along his chin.

Perhaps it was a good thing his mistress had waited to speak the truth on a night like this one. Had Crescent been in his human form, he wouldn’t have been able to resist bathing his sleeping lover’s face with tears.

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