There was something wrong with his scent.
Solitary Coil didn't know what it was. She couldn't quite put her finger on it. And yet it crawled across her skin. It resonated inside her stomach. It made her hair stand on end.
It wasn't right. It wasn't healthy. There was an edge, an element to it that had never been there before.
Did it have something to do with their marriage? Solitary Coil's eyes settled on the oricalcum wedding band that girded her left ring finger. It felt...cool. Not cold, meaning her husband had died. Not warm, the way it should feel when it was on his finger. Just cool. She didn't know what it meant.
Was her husband immobilized? It shouldn't feel like anything if he had taken his ring off, though why he would was beyond her. He understood what it meant to be married, a Solar to a Lunar. He had read the old books, just as she had.
Solitary Coil growled in frustration and regarded the rural manor, set among this thick forest out in the far East. There was little traffic to and from the mansion, though the servants were plentiful. She had seen no sign of anyone who wasn't a servant, and yet her husband's scent was all over the perimeter.
Had someone taken him? Was he hostage? Was this all a trap?
What had gone wrong at Grayfalls?
Solitary Coil hissed in frustration, still watching the walls for the patrol she was expecting. The battle hadn't gone very well, until her Solar mate had conjured magics more powerful than any that had been seen in an Age. The memory of that malefic green light still thrilled her, sent tendrils of excitement crawling across her skin.
She squirmed on the branch she was sitting on, adjusting.
What had happened though? The Solar Circle Sorcery, for it could have been nothing else, had ravaged the enemy army. And then Final Starry Night, Twilight Caste, the greatest Sorcerer alive and heir to the world...fled. He had conjured a chariot of fire and fled west.
It took her a month to find his trail again. In Nexus of all places, a city he once swore he would never go to. The trail had led to a store tucked away in a middle-class area in decline.
Solitary Coil still shivered when she thought of it. Shalrina was the storekeeper, and She was not mortal. Not in the least. The Daiymo of Faces, Solitary Coil had read about Her. One of the Great Gods of Yu-Shan, She was arguably the God of Identity, and Her power was uncontested. She didn't know why one of the Greater Gods lived in Nexus, in a small shop, but Solitary Coil had been well warned not to raise the ire of a God of that kind of strength.
So she hadn't. Instead, she picked up her husband's trail again. It had been tedious, tracking his progress through the East. Praise Luna, at least he seemed to be going much slower than she was.
And the trail led here.
Solitary Coil growled from the branch, impatient to be done with all this nonsense. Why had he fled? Why to Nexus? What deal had he made with the Daiymo of Faces? Why was he here, now? She'd have all the answers in minutes.
With the grace of Luna and the power of her Charms, Solitary Coil shed her human body and took to the air, cloaking herself in feathers, talons and sharp eyes as an eagle. The glorious rush of flight bore her in circles around the mansion as she confirmed the locations of the patrols of private guards.
Pathetic. Not even worth fighting.
The eagle that was in truth a woman glided down to the edge of a window on the third floor, a place she had already confirmed was the master bedroom. This close, she could see how luxurious the furnishings were. She sneered at it, knowing at the same time that her husband would agree with her.
They were such a perfect match, the two of them! Both masters of Sorcery, both seekers of truth, of what had happened in the First Age. Both of them beyond mere creature comforts. Both of them with the will, the thirst and the power to rule all of Creation.
Soon she would find who had taken her husband. And she would be certain to wring every last drop of blood from their corpses, using the red liquid to placate the next First Circle Demon she called. Perhaps another Agata this time. Speaking of...
"Is he in here?" she whispered to the air. A stir of motion, behind the veil of space, and she heard the answering whisper.
"Yes, my Mistress. He is in this very room, asleep in that bed."
The Agata bound to her service was a beautiful cruelly resplendent beast, with a perfection of form too powerful for Creation to contain. Whatever place it once had in the natural world had long ago been forgotten when its kind had sided with the Primoridals in the First War. As a soldier of the Yozi's, the Primordials who surrendered, it too had suffered their fate, to be bound outside of Creation for all eternity, bound by the very power of their own names.
Of course, the Agata could simply be the spawn of a Second Circle Demon. But such speculations were beyond the scope of today's hunt. All that mattered was that the Demon Wasp was bound to her will, bound out of sight unless ordered to manifest.
"Watch for a trap. Alert me if a God intervenes. You have my permission to bring the Blood Apes and...punish any Spirits who interfere."
"Of course, my Mistress," its alien voice buzzed in her ear.
The eagle became a snake, her totem animal, and Solitary Coil wound her way across the floor, over the carpet, up to the bed and straight up around one of the bed posts. The silk sheets felt shamefully decadent against her scales but she refused to be distracted.
Careful, careful, careful, Solitary Coil slid up the sheets without disturbing the sleeping figure. And there, sleeping beneath the silk, was her husband.
How beautiful he looked. That tanned skin, that tightly muscled body that he took pains to condition even with all his scholastic study. That silky black hair that she loved to rub against so much. Final Starry Night looked peaceful, relaxed.
She tasted the air.
Still, his scent was wrong.
What was it? What was wrong? The Agata didn't warn her, but it still didn't feel right.
The snake shed its form and a woman white as snow graced her husband's bed. Solitary Coil was one of the Dune People, an albino race of barbarians from the Deep Desert of the South. She was of a fierce and proud people, and when Luna had Exalted her and made her a Lunar, Solitary Coil had been honored.
When she had found her husband, the connection had been instant. The Solar and Lunar had been bound together in Ages past, after the First War. Chosen by the Unconquered Sun and Luna, their Animas were wed to each other, so that each inheritor of that Exaltation had a mate somewhere in the world that they were meant to be with.
Coil had read about the Solar long before she met one, and so she was surprised when she did meet Final Starry Night. She had expected her Solar mate to be weak and soft. She had expected to render to him her duty.
Instead, she found that just being with him was exactly what her soul longed for. And he was indeed a man worthy of any Lunar's respect. Fierce himself. Educated and yet bearing a passion to bring that knowledge to bear upon the world. They should have gone far.
They still could.
"My love," she whispered in his ear and a smile graced her lips as she felt his body shift against hers, responding. And then his eyes opened.
The man beneath her was handsome, but he was not her husband.
"Who are you!" she said furiously.
"What the fu..." he said, and though his voice was of her husband, the words and his eyes were empty of who Final Starry Night really was.
"Tell me," Solitary Coil growled and her fingers became talons that dug into his skin just enough to convince him that struggling would only result in a tremendous amount of blood loss. "Tell me who you are. And where my husband is!"
And it became so clear why his scent was wrong. He was stoned. Completely and totally drugged up so badly it was amazing he was even conscious. She could see it in his eyes, taste it on his skin, breathe it in as he breathed out.
Coil sneered in disgust.
"Yes. Final Starry Night is my husband and I want to know where he is. And WHY you have his body!"
"Oh...oh! You must be...Carol?"
"Coil! Solitary Coil," she grated. "By Luna, you...you...aaaargh!" she screamed and bit into his shoulder savagely. The taste of his blood filled her mouth and she was drowning in bliss as he shrieked in pain and terror, her teeth breaking through the haze of drugs when nothing else would.
"Now," she said, wiping his blood from her mouth as she released his shoulder. "Now tell me where my husband is. Or I'm going to drink you dry and polish it off with your right leg."
"Gods, by the Dreamer, ah, Heaven!" swore the man who was and wasn't Final Starry Night. "Fine, fine, just...don't kill me!"
"Good. Then talk!"
"But...but I don't know much. He swore I wouldn't be in too much danger. He said...he said, someone might come after me but once they realized I wasn't him, they would leave me alone!"
"I might leave you with your limbs still attached, IF you answer my questions," Solitary Coil said harshly. Her claws dug in a bit deeper, drawing blood.
"Yes, yes! Please, I can see...I can see you're the one in charge," the man shouted. "I'm no threat to you, don't you see that?"
"It was the Mask woman, don't you see? I wanted more to life. I wanted...to get away from...what life had been for me. So...I went to her. And she offered me a deal."
"What kind of deal?" Solitary Coil asked, suspecting and yet dreading the answer.
"That man came along. He looked like this. He wanted the same thing I did, to get away from his life. The Mask woman lined up a whole bunch of us, I guess he was someone really important. He's sure rich enough, you know? So, he went through us. And he picked me."
"The exchange," the handsome man who wasn't her husband said, shuddering under her tight grip. "I wanted what he had and he wanted what I had. So we switched."
"You traded lives, didn't you?" Solitary Coil demanded. "You took his body."
"Yeah, I did. You don't know what it was like, Solitary Coil. Never having power over your life. Always having to obey, to serve. To follow someone's every whim. I wanted an out and he gave me that. And look at me, a rich man way out East, someone no one else knows about. I'm not hurting anyone. Why can't you leave me be?"
"I want to know where my husband is," Solitary Coil hissed.
"The man?" he asked, seeming to be unaware of the paradoxical nature of the body of Final Starry Night asking about what amounted to himself.
"Yes, the man. Final Starry Night. Where is he?"
"Final Starry Night...wait, wait, he was the Destroyer?"
"Yes, he is," Solitary Coil grinned, pleased at the sound of fear in his voice and at the source of that fear. She liked it more than she could say, that her Solar mate had won a name of such standing. It was not as fine a name as it could have been. The army had not been his equal, after all. Yet the fear, yes, the fear he had earned.
"Malfaens, I can't believe it! I'm the Destroyer?"
"The only thing you're capable of destroying is your organs and brain, with whatever drug that is you're using. Tell me what I want to know. Where IS HE?" The last words came out as a shriek of rage.
"I don't know. The Mask woman didn't tell me that part and neither did he. He left, same as me. Maybe he's still in Nexus, I don't know."
"I assume then that he has your life?" she asked. "That he's wearing your body like you're wearing his?"
The bleeding man could only nod, his breath coming in gasps as fear and shock combined to slowly immobilize him. She would have to be careful. She didn't want to risk his body dying on her, or she would never be able to undo this.
"Fine. Tell me what you looked like, so I may find him and bring him back to his senses. Tell me now. Tell me while you still have a tongue."
"Alright," he said, eyes closing and leaning back into the silk bed. His body was soaking with sweat now, mingling with the blood. "Alright. You're looking for...a blonde. Lighter skin then mine now. Curly hair. Very blue eyes."
"Nineteen," the man said, an edge of defensiveness creeping into his voice.
"Nineteen?" she repeated.
"Yes, though...though I suppose I looked younger. That's what the Guild said."
"The Guild? So I can find him among the Guild?"
"Maybe. I don't know. If your husband wasn't careful, they might have caught him again, after all."
"Caught him? Why would they be looking for him? What...what is it that you did?" Solitary Coil felt fear rise up in her again. Something wasn't right here. She was missing something. Something obvious.
"I was a whore," he breathed. Shame colored words even that soft.
"A whore? Small market for men in the East. ...or were you a man?" she asked, realization finally revealing itself.
He just shook his head.
"My husband's a woman?" she yelled in outrage. "A woman? What...Luna, what the hell was he thinking? Has he completely lost his mind? Why would he become a woman? Why? Tell me!"
Solitary Coil shook the bleeding body of her husband, too angry to do much to hurt him. A woman. A woman! Why? Why would he do that?
Was he so eager to escape his life...that he was willing to give up being a man to do it?
Was he so eager to make sure...she would never touch him again?
Solitary Coil felt the fear and it only fueled her anger.
"Please...I'm telling you the truth. Look for a blonde woman that looks about sixteen years old. That's...that's who I was."
"I should kill you, you know," Solitary Coil said. "But...but I must admit this is not your fault. You were nothing more than an empty-headed girl who thought with her womanhood and dreamed of nothing but more drugs. I would punish you, but your way of life will do that far better than I could."
Solitary Coil looked out the window, toward the freedom of the sky. And Nexus.
"Stay here, little girl," she hissed. "Be here when I get back. Or I'll give you so much pain a lifetime of drugs won't numb it."
She left him there, sobbing. The sky beckoned and she took to it, shedding the woman she was and the burdens that came with it. Someday, she would reach Nexus and have to return to being that woman, to dealing with that life. But for now, she was an eagle and she was free of wondering why the love of her life had left her.
: There are those who would note that sometimes, sometimes, you get the things you really need instead of the things you deserve.Kailan
: If people only ever got what they deserved, the world would be a more miserable place.My Novels
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