Silent sentinels stood quartered brave upon ramparts high, their vinaceous luminance surrounded by a foe stifling and vast, an armada of darkness extending to the edge of the forest and beyond. A glance to the horizon spoke of help perhaps an hour or two immature–ally or adversary not known. Crouching outside the compound, Kyra looked at her watch and wondered what was taking Von so long.

Her lungs labored in the thick night air, pregnant with aloetic dew. The pre-dawn mist, spurred and whipped by an easterly wind, turned taciturn trees into whispering eidolons. Fear aside, Kyra felt disoriented in the heavier than normal gravity. Each movement, each step took extra effort and a concentration to compensate that reminded her of the underwater training Papa had insisted she master.

From dancing shadows under solemn eyes, Von seemingly materialized, the frame of his fuligin capote parting the dimly lit mist with the fluid grace of a matador waving his capa. His stride, long and slow and steady, perhaps to gain the measure of the land, bespoke the precision of a Blue Oynx. What you believe Kyra, Papa often said, has power beyond the reality. Besides, he would add with a laugh, the two are one in the same. So believe. And so she did.

“Von, I have to say, I wasn’t sure I was going to see you again when the sky exploded with a flash of light and the ambient noise of the forest took pause. Not that I needed you of course.” Kyra caught the glimmer of Von’s smile in the foggy darkness as the rest of his face remained concealed within the recess of his hood.

“Of that I have no doubt,” said Von removing his hood, pleased to find humor in his companion. “Truth be known, I wasn’t all that sure I would be the one greeting you. You can thank your Papa, I have. Many times.”

“My Janus,” exclaimed Kyra, the blood draining from her face to match Von’s. His blood appeared maroon with a suggestion of scarlet and crimson in the scant light and congealed in the cool night air as if soft tar. Had he run his face through a hundred thorn bushes or been involved in the fight of his life mattered not, his face was laced with cuts skilled as the handiwork of a small town carnifax. “We aren’t going anywhere until you let me examine your cuts. These need immediate attention.” She broke eye contact and reached for the med tin in her kit.

“Kyra,” said Von in a tone so sonorous and resonant she paused. “I am not at all certain that whatever attacked me is dead nor am I certain there are not more like it on the way, which in any case, the masters of such a beast must surely know by now the unfortunate outcome, and released whatever reserve force they had at hand. Be our foe but one or many matters not. I have not the strength for another round with one so fierce and skillful.”

“And your point?

Von laughed. “Discretion is —“

“The lexis of academics writing about generals. Since neither you nor I fit either description, I’d say reserve your strength and let me clean those cuts before infection sets in. Janus knows what inhabits this place.” Von started to frown. “I’d rather you die at the hands of the enemy than in the bed of infection. I’ve been down that road and we ain’t taking it again. Do you understand?”

“Make it quick then. I have seen the puniceous eyes of death. I’d prefer not to see them again.”

“Hey, roll your eyes just a little more and your face won’t be the only thing I’ll have to set right.”

Von laughed. “Damn, that hurts.”

“What? I’ve haven’t even touched you.”

“Touch all you want. Just don’t make me laugh again.”

Categories: Story, Kyra, Von, Papa