Keith didn't know what it felt like to feel anymore.
The strangest feeling settled somewhere deep in Jonah’s chest as he grew accustomed to the world he’d suddenly been thrust into. At first there was confusion — then fear. But August’s company and guidance quickly eased all of it with relative ease. For whatever reason, although August was a complete stranger, Jonah felt… comfortable with him. Perhaps it was somewhat due to the strange resemblance they had, which Jonah discovered while peering into his reflection in a nearby pond with August by his side.
August laughed in the gentle way Jonah had come to know. “It appears as if we may have been twins,” he commented. It it weren’t for Jonah’s clothing and hair, they may have been mistaken as relatives.
August continued, “funny thing too. I had a brother once, long ago. You remind me a lot of him.”
A brother. The word stuck in his mind for some reason. A part of him was curious as to what happened to this brother of his, but… judging by August’s diction, it might have been better not to inquire about his had-been brother. It might’ve been a sore topic, and the last thing Jonah wanted was to displease his kind host. He’d been so generous to him, Jonah hardly had any idea what to do. All the chores were taken care of in mysterious ways, for he’d never seen August actually do them… so he presumed something akin to magic was going on here. And when questioned about it, August laughed and nodded, confirming his suspicions.
“You’re quite right. I do know magic. Mostly white magic — I’m something of a healer. But I do know some other utilities aside from regeneration and whatnot.”
August pursed his lips a little, coming to an idea. “Actually, I think it’s about time you take up a job as well. You’ll be able to safely explore and take on jobs of your own — and I’m sure you must be bored reading books all day. My library isn’t that impressive, after all.”
Jonah begged to differ, honestly. He could sit down with a good book for the rest of his life, provided it had enough pages to last that long. But getting a job seemed like a good idea, since he did want to help out as much as he could in some attempt to repay his host.
Thus, Jonah left to join the magician’s guild, and proved to be quite the potentially powerful spellcaster — that was, if he could get a better grip on his control. He was clumsy at best and barely made it through training in one piece, but nevertheless he survived, and once he exited the guild hall after his graduation, he felt a sigh of relief escape him. His new hooded cape and staff were barely any compensation for the kind of trouble he went through to obtain them, but either way he figured he ought to grab a bite to eat before heading back to August’s.
He made his way to the tavern, albeit tentatively. Unfamiliar crowds like the one occupying the tables now intimidated him a little. Except — oh. Oh. He caught sight of a fair-haired boy talking up another (short) kid with green eyes. He didn’t care much for the latter, instead finding his gaze glued to the former.
Come to think of it, hadn’t he seen him before from training? He was… Trace. The precocious wizard-to-be who as brilliant but often in trouble with the elders for doing ridiculous things, like trying to be a human windmill, beating up his fellow students with his big stick… the list went on. Jonah smiled, glad to see a somewhat familiar face. There was always something that drew him to Trace for whatever reason. It could’ve been his infectious smile, maybe, which Trace seemed to have plenty of.
Jonah picked a table not too far from Trace and his pal after ordering his food, sipping on a glass of water while he waited.
Time passed slowly for the witch. It always seemed that way when every day in the woods, alone in her modest but ornate tree cottage, she spent her time idly, doing whatever she pleased in the comfort of her solitude— day after day. First the morning came with the gradual rising of the sun, light filtering through the leaves above her home. She did not like the sun very much. No— correction. She did not like the sun at all. She considered herself nocturnal, if anything, preferring to rise with the owls as the sun sank underneath the horizon, but her sleeping schedule was far too erratic for that to be the proper term. In fact, she usually slept very little— usually opting to read, write, experiment, or otherwise fiddle around. Outside of her short, infrequent naps of course. Even so, despite the rumors passed amongst the city folk (usually about how she eats naughty kids or something like that,) mornings were usually the time visitors travelled to her home in the woods, seeking out her services— whether it be commissioning some sort of concoction (aphrodisiacs— poisons— she preferred the illegal sorts,) asking for a fortune, or whatever else she was apparently well-known for. The afternoons, she preferred to nap in the branches of her tree, with her fox companion (usually) not far from her. She loved the quiet of the forest, the gentle wind, the smell of grass wafting along with it, and the hum of life which was a lullaby to her ears. Meanwhile her evenings were spent collecting various materials for her own more or less nefarious purposes, taking her to the far reaches of the forest for fae wings, dog teeth, amanita extract— whatever she found. And she would take these, place them in jars, bottles, parcels, and hang them from the branches of her tree.
This was probably one of the reasons she found a good number of her ingredients missing. Usually her bones. Such thefts could be almost always attributed to a certain swamp-dwelling priest who Malistra had the displeasure of knowing. She'd been watching over the young man for quite a long time, and yet, even so... he was always a bit of a mystery to her. Not that she tried to unravel him. Mal preferred to keep out of others' business. But she remembered, years— no, centuries ago— when the priest was first abandoned in the marshes in his infancy. She never really intervened directly, but she did her part to make sure the serpents did not get to him, or any of the other less-than-friendly inhabitants of the wetlands.
Nevertheless, she seemed to have unintentionally endeared herself to the swamp prince Chiwen. And that meant she would always be in short supply of bones.
Recently, however, she felt a strangeness in the air that she couldn't quite put her finger on. News from the cities came by rarely to her, and she usually cared very little about the insignificant lives of those filthy, short-lived humans, but sometimes tidbits of information piqued her interest. She had a keen sense of fate, and regardless of whether or not she gave a shit, she could feel the threads tighten and slacken beyond her control— and she noticed a few snapped unexpectedly not long ago.
But more important where the threads that were now inseparably tangled.
She had no idea how long ago it was when Chiwen last sent her a message. Something about taking care of the swamp, leaving on some kind of journey— something like that. She found this to be incredibly odd for the priest, who spent the vast majority of his life in near constant solitude, with only herself (sort of) and the marsh life as his constant companions. Not that it was any of her business, of course. But she figured it couldn’t possibly hurt to have her familiar check on him— just to make sure Chiwen wasn’t dead, or dying, or trapped in the stocks, or otherwise being a severe inconvenience. And now, to receive news of his return— and with a strange man in tow, no doubt— well. Mal felt a distinct sense of… something. Something she didn’t understand. It was a feeling somewhere between annoyance and concern, except it made her want to throw a couple rocks at Chiwen’s head for being such a dunce and bringing strange people into their sacred land— and also, she had to wonder exactly how and why her fox came back to her in such poor condition. It was annoying. Nate was hardy, but he wasn’t immortal, and frankly, only she had permission to do those sorts of things to him.
So Mal promptly sent a message over to the priest and his… human. Summoning them to her immediately. When she heard the knock on her door, she opened it just a little, to examine the unfamiliar male from the comfort of her shadows.
“Chiwen,” she started, opening the door just a crack more. “He smells strange.”
You wouldn’t believe how easy it is to hate yourself even when everyone tells you nice things that you don’t ever quite believe. Actually, that’s a lie. You don’t believe it. At all. You just kind of pretend that you do in order to create that sense of fake bravado that everyone knew you for, at one point. It’s easier that way. You don’t have to fight it. You don’t have to deal with everyone around you telling you things that are so completely fucking untrue it makes you wanna vomit and hurt yourself. You don’t have to look at their eyes, big and full if disgusting pity. You don’t need it. You don’t need them to look down on you, nor do you want it.
You don’t need anything from anyone.
You like your solitude. Very much, at that.
Oh, and the things they used to say before you shut them all out of your life. Mallory this, Mallory that. The forced praise. The thin veneer of politeness and disingenuous concern for your well-being. All some hilarious farce on the world’s greatest stage: your goddamn life. The lies they spew— the ones you return in kind, shoving words through your grit teeth as you smile and nod. It’s all so sad. And funny. A fucking riot, actually. Someone once said that life’s either a comedy or a tragedy. You reckon yours is equal parts both.
Sometimes you cry so much you’re not sure if you’re crying anymore. Maybe you’re laughing. At some point, you don’t care which is which. All you know is that the sound of your voice, horse and ugly, brings some kind of sick satisfaction.
Maybe you are crazy, like they said.
That thought amuses you, too.
These days, you’re not around them anymore. The people who once tortured you with their mindless trivial pursuits of success. You were never really interested in them, and even if you were at some point, that notion was quickly stomped out of you the moment your father got hauled back to Cambodia. That was around the time your brother was born, and your ill-equipped single mother could never shut that mouth of hers.
You don’t like your mother. This isn’t something that’s uncommon. You wonder if people like you ever have the desire to connect with estranged parents. If others wish for the close connection and intimacy— the ideal parent-child relationships you see on daytime children’s programming.
But you aren’t one of them. You could care less. In fact, the idea of making contact with your mother seems utterly sickening.
You’re not much one for contact in general.
You even shy away from the people who want to get close, get to know you, and whatever magnetic charisma they claim you apparently have. You aren’t sure what they’re talking about or what they’re smoking whenever they say that, and you have practically no interest in them whatsoever, but in a way, the attention amuses you. It’s like a fucking prank: here’s this supposed dark, untamed manic pixie dream girl who you assume represents to them an escape from the monotony of privileged life, but then, surprise! You’re actually a fucking emotional wreck.
Of course, you’d never let them know. You don’t want them to, don’t need them to. In fact, they’re not even worthy.
You despise everyone.
But perhaps, most of all, you despise yourself.
Perhaps— or perhaps certainly —you take a sick pleasure in your own self-loathing. Maybe you like being bad. Maybe you like wallowing in your endless self-pity like some pathetic loser milking your pain for all its worth. Maybe you love the sound of you screaming yourself hoarse when you’re all alone. Maybe you like the way the cuts on your wrists look in the mirror. The blood pouring into the shower drain. Maybe you like the scars, the pain. The way your eyes, dark and sunken, seem to remind you of a corpse— and you, the walking dead fooling everyone that you’re the same as them. Maybe it’s all just some grand fucking joke that god is playing on you and you’re stumbling right into the palm of his hand— like some puppet stringed up with a smile plastered on your face. Maybe that’s all you are. A hollow doll of a person. Sometimes it feels like the only reason you can move your limbs at all is by some unknown cosmic force willing you to live a life you don’t want to live.
Maybe you’re your own perfect tragedy. You feel like no one really understands.
Usually, that’s okay with you. Other times, it’s not.
In the end, it doesn’t matter how much you mull it over.
You’re still here.
A/N: gross self indulgent drabble with jonah in the pov of one of his many flings and also a revamp of one of my less used ocs. i like this a little better among my current writing exercise pieces
He doesn’t seem to know what he does to you. How his skin feels on yours. The smile always ready to curl at the corners of his mouth. He keeps himself well groomed, supple and smelling fresh like the shampoo he uses. And of course, his clothing. He always takes great care to frame his hips, his legs, his shoulders, the back of his neck.
He chooses the colors he wears carefully– black makes his skin stand out. Pink makes him look soft, vulnerable– and it works wonders.
He smiles when he sees you. The same expression he always seems to have on. He automatically wraps his arms around yours while carrying a conversation with another bar goer before waving to them as they walk away. And then, he pulls you gently out the door– to your car.
You lay down on the backseat. He’s too tall to straddle you, but it doesn’t stop him from trying– sliding his body against yours as he grinds against you. He’s done this a million times but the feeling is the same as the first time he’s ever done it. Back then, you were drinking alone in a bar, five or six beers sitting next to you and you were too drunk to make it home. He saw you, sat next to you and started chatting you up and you were too drunk to give a fuck at that point. And too distracted by the little ways he’d make contact– whether it was sitting a little too close or the faintest of touches as he reached across the bar counter. His hand on your thigh. Somehow yours found its way to his, and you noticed he didn’t push you away.
One thing led to another and you were fucking in your apartment, driven home by taxi.
Now he brings your awareness back to the forefront of your mind. He’s doing that coy thing with his mouth again, biting a little in such a way that makes you want to bite it for him. You pull his head down on top of yours and press his mouth against yours and he fills it with soft, pleasant noises that go straight to your dick. He’s too cute and you can’t stop yourself anymore– not unless he says no.
But the never does. He keeps smiling, as if he didn’t know how to stop in the first place.
“Ruben,” he whispers. Your name. “I wanna fuck.”
You tell him you’re both in a parking lot. During business hours.
“Then let’s get out of here.”
You take him back home where he’s half undressed by the time he gets through your door. The pink sweater that hung loosely on his body gets tossed to the side to make room for your roaming hands on his waist. He puts his arms around you and does that thing with his eyes again that makes you want to kiss between them over and over and he wraps his arms around your neck again and whispers dirty things against your lips and it makes you growl in response, dragging down his too-tight jeans and pulling them off him and you can’t do it fast enough because you want him now and you get down and take him into your mouth and he inhales sharply and the sound he makes when you hallow your cheeks you swear is divine.
It isn’t long until he’s weak at the knees and you’re hard as a fucking rock, him tumbling onto the bed, onto your unfolded sheets and crumpled blankets and you swear he looks so good against them, naked like that. He’s still smiling, and this time you’re hovering over him and smiling back until you lean down and kiss his head, a rubbing his cheek a little with your stubble, and he complains that you’re scratching him and you tell him that you love him right then and there.
That’s when the smile disappears.
Your heart feels like it stops for a full minute before you realize only a few seconds pass. He’s looking away and his expression is only barely readable.
You ask him if you did something wrong.
“No,” he says. “No, you didn’t.”
You say he’s a liar. He doesn’t reply right away.
“There’s… there’s nothing wrong with you,” he says. “It’s…”
It’s? You echo.
“It’s just that you barely know me.”
You can’t say anything to this because despite all the times you’ve fucked and all the times he’s spent late nights at your place and in your arms, it feels like, after all this time, he’s no closer to you than the day you met. He looks at the the same way he does anyone else– with the same eyes that make you feel like he’s only ever been looking at you. You’ve been jealous. Plenty of times. He knows this too– although you try to control it, it shows on his thighs and wrists, in the nail marks you leave that last until morning.
Doesn’t look like there’ll be a morning after now. Jonah sits up and you let him and he doesn’t look at you anymore. He’s no longer smiling, just standing up and fetching his clothes and you’re dumbfounded, sitting on the edge of your bed, naked, with a dying boner.
“You should get dressed,” he says, “unless you’re gonna…”
You ask him if he’s leaving. You realize a few moments too late that the question’s pointless.
“Do you want me to stay?”
You ask him what he thinks and he smiles just a little.
“I can’t. Sorry.”
“I… I shouldn’t be messing around with you like this. It’s unfair to you.”
You tell him if you didn’t want it, you would’ve kicked him out of bed the first time around. That gets a laugh out of him, but it feels hollow. You don’t think it was that funny either.
“Yeah, I guess you’re right, huh?”
He pulls on his jeans again. You ask him to stay when he gets to the third button and he stops and walks over to you. There’s an expression on his face you’ve never seen before and it’s unbearable to see him look so sad and so unlike himself and then he cups your face in his both his hands and kisses you, long and deep, the way you think lovers would kiss and for a moment you forget everything that just happened, his tongue pushing away your thoughts.
But it soon, too, is over. And he pulls away, wipes his mouth on the back of his hand and picks up his sweater next to your door.
“Please don’t call me again.”
He leaves without putting it on.
Kaj sweeps away the crumbs from his shirt with the delicacy of an artist, Rafar thinks. In truth, it seemed that anything he did was wrought with such a gracefulness that one might assume he was royalty, at first glance. The only things to betray him were the very clothes he wore on his back— tattered, off-white, and worn from months of continuous travel. As Kaj always said, it never did him any good to waste money on new things if they were not broken. Rafar was sure he'd wear those rags until they quite literally began to fall off his body.
Clapping his hands together, Kaj stands, stretching in satisfaction. "The bread was good today, don't you think? I thought the poppy seed was a nice touch."
Rafar is still sitting down at the table as he watches. He only takes a sip from his canteen, eyes diverted— now zigzagging through the marketplace crowds as they pass by en masse. Kaj catches this, smiles a little, before leaning down to block his line of sight.
"Hello. You're deep in thought today."
There's no avoiding those eyes of his, golden and sun-flecked. It's almost embarrassing how much Rafar likes them. And to think that Kaj could be oblivious to it all seemed to be the most impossible thing. How could someone so wise for his years be so completely oblivious?
And yet, maybe it was yet another reason why Rafar could not bear to leave after months together. In retrospect, it was silly. He merely agreed to escort him from Arkaios to the next town over, in order to ensure the young man's safety would not be compromised enroute— and yet, here he was, months later and miles away from his guard post at the palace.
In truth, he was a deserter. He trained his entire life to assume a position of importance as a palace guard. All those hours toiling under the desert sun, skin nearly blistering with the heat, with water barrels propped against his back— solid and heavy. The burns underneath his feet from every step in the sand. And the endless meditation— priests chanting in harmony as Rafar would bite back his howls of pain, each crack of the whip demanding the same thing: clear your mind. breathe. rinse and repeat.
All that, thrown away on a whim as soon as he saw him walk alone, hungry and tired, past the palace gates.
"Are you thinking about the palace again?" Kaj asks, tilting his head to the side. "You know… I never did insist you come with me. That was entirely of your own volition."
Rafar plugs his canteen. No matter what he did, Kaj could read him like an open book. "No, I am not thinking of that, thank you very much."
"Well, you must certainly be thinking about something important. You had that look in your eyes again."
"That look?" Rafar asks.
"You look like a lizard when you think too much."
Rafar looks absolutely unamused as he crosses his arms and reclines against the table. "Care to explain how I resemble a lizard?"
Kaj taps his nose a few times with his index finger. "When lizards sit very still, they look like statues. Always wearing that serious expression on their faces."
"Lizards can't make any other faces."
"Yes, and so they always look serious. Like you."
What a curious feeling. Rafar came to know it intimately— indignation, embarrassment, exasperation, adoration —all astir underneath his careful decorum. He would always turn away, make some show of annoyance, then Kaj would always laugh as if he knew that his companion secretly enjoyed his constant teasing. And he would not be wrong— Rafar did indeed turn away, and Kaj's gentle laugh caught his ears like a string of bells in the wind.
It seemed as if Rafar's fate was inevitable: he was to fall madly, deeply in love.
The clock struck twelve. Lilya Diallo listened to the bells chime, counting the seconds between each one. One, two, three, ring. One, two, three. She loved the bells. When she heard them, she could imagine the fireplace she and her sister gathered around in their childhood. The blistering cold under the tent. Huddling under blankets with what little clothing they had. And telling stories.
Her sister loved to tell stories, she remembered. Stories crafted with the delicate artistry of a weaver, each thread a sentence and each sentence a world in which magic lived, thrived, and flourished. Places where their kind roamed free without fear. Where people danced upon staircases of water, walked cinder roads and their every breath spoke of life.
In Koel, things were different. They lived in the outskirts before, in the slums that evaded the clergy’s watchful eye. But further inland, things changed— structures sprung out of the permafrost like trees, pointing their jagged edges towards the sky, as if threatening it to never fall apart. They seemed to lean forward, over her when she walked the streets. It reminded her of how the clergy looked when she was small— tall men, pale as death, dressed in long black robes.
She hated Koel with all her heart. She hated the footsteps of soldiers, the sound of cavalry making their rounds. The silence. The occasional cry. She hated the ground on which their king walked, each step damning the dirt beneath it. And oh, how she hated the king.
“Lilya,” said the king. “The towels, for god’s sake?”
She bowed her head. “Forgive me, my lord. I will fetch them immediately.”
She left the room, heart drumming quietly in her chest. They prepared for this day extensively. Working her up the ranks through a series of strings pulled taut. And how little the king knew how few allies he truly had— the entire council had their eyes on her and she knew they were waiting. They waited years for this. Decades. Far too long.
In the service room, they were already prepared. Another maid nodded to her in greeting, leaning in close as Lilya entered. “It’s between the folds. You’ll feel it,” she whispered. Lilya nodded. She ran her fingers underneath the first towel, running the scenario through her head. He could retaliate. She was agile, but not strong— and the king could easily overpower her. She imagined straddling his corpse, panting, with blood spattered on her dress and on the pearlescent tiles. It would be a death sentence regardless. She didn’t care.
She was ready.
She held her breath as she walked down the halls, back to the baths where the king reclined against the edge of the pool. The room was hot; moisture hit her face as she opened the door, the smell of salts and lavender flowing around her. She took off her shoes, stepping into the shallow layer of water that washed the floor, then walked towards the king. Slowly. Deliberately. Her hands trembled, one holding the towels, the other hidden— tucked between them.
The king opened one eye, glancing at her before closing it again. “You look pale, Lilya.”
“Felt a bit faint earlier, m'lord. I promise you it is nothing to worry about.”
“That’s what I like to hear. Now, please, would you?” He rolled his shoulders, groaning. “Here.”
She pulled her maid stool over, placing the towels in her lap as she sat behind the king. With a gentle touch, she caressed his neck, let her hand slide down to his neck, then shoulders. She kneaded the muscle there, tightly knotted, and felt the tension melt slowly. The king relaxed, closing his eyes once again.
And oh so quietly, Lilya drew her knife. There was no struggle. The king choked. Lilya pushed his head down into the water.
Blood blossomed underneath the king’s body. She dropped her knife and stood. Stepped back. And ran.