Copyright 2016 Ashe Thurman
Published by Ashe Thurman at Shakespir
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Table of Contents
When the gates first opened on Latolan some eight hundred years ago, the only thing the first explorers found were the drunken ruins of a civilization at least a thousand years dead. Since then, The District has taken advantage of the relative neutrality to make the world the home of its headquarters and most of its government funded projects. The only major settlement is Tomar, a single, 80 mile wide city-state containing a number of prestigious universities and private schools, The Grand Tomar Library, and the main hall of several technical and magical guilds.
“What are you?” I whispered to the thin, sharp voice from the void.
“A librarian.” Another crimson light flared to life. The glow it cast fell on transparent skin and gigantic blue-black eyes, and I recoiled a little. After a moment, though, I started to see the features in his face that resembled my own, and his nature became startlingly clear all at once.
“You’re a cave elf, aren’t you?” He nodded. “Why doesn’t anyone seem to know you’re down here?”
He tsked lightly. “What do you do when you need something from the Dark Shelves?”
“Put in a request to Jackie, the Assistant Director of Magical Reference.”
“Have you ever met Jackie?”
“The directors are usually super busy, so, no…oh…hold on…”
“Hi, I’m Jackie. Nice to meet you.”
“This is not a satisfactory answer to my question,” I responded. He sighed and leaned back.
“You’re a wood elf. You know how people treat the more ignoble members of the elf family. The only other person that works these floors is Marcel, and he’s a vampire. Everyone’s content to assume the whole division is run by magic rather than deal with us.”
“Is that the reason you waited until now to introduce yourself?” His skin was so pale that even in the dim light I could tell he was blushing scarlet.
“I’m shy around cute girls.”
-from “A Red Ring of Light”
The Golden Hour
Her eyelashes are long and light. Not as light as mine, but then mine are practically transparent. Skin the color of peach fruit-at-the-bottom yogurt. Blonde hair. But not quite blond blond. Like…the color of the pages of a paperback book. Eyes that are bluer than…some really nice shade of blue.
I’m so fucking bad at this.
But the warm red sky was at the end of the long draw to sunrise, and she was in my bed. About eight hours ago, she was even naked. It was actually pretty great, but I still wasn’t totally sure how we’d gotten here.
A few years ago, when this spectacular specimen of elven femininity had first come down the long stairs into the basement archives where I earned my paycheck I knew that it was part of their tests. They put all the new employees through it. It had been a tradition long before I ever started working there, and they kept it alive through nostalgia and a grim sense of camaraderie. “The creepy basement stories” gave everyone employed by the Grand Tomar Library something in common, except, of course, for the two of us who actually worked down there in the dark. For Marcel and I it was tales of people tripping on themselves in terror because a book jumped from a shelf. Knowing that your occupation was someone else’s bogeyman was a little frustrating, sometimes, but as long as I had food on my table and a roof over my head, I couldn’t complain too much. I was already an outsider, after all. A cave elf? Who even remembered we still existed, much less held down jobs in the dark, but respectable, parts of the cities?
Maybe that’s why when she kept coming back down into the basement with her little red lantern I started to read too much into it. Even after I realized she didn’t know who or what I was, I still kept waiting and hoping that maybe, just maybe, there was some kind of connection to be had. But, of course, I’m a coward and I blamed workplace dating rules for my inaction on these feelings I was having. It wasn’t until it got down to me that she was leaving the job that the panic set in. I didn’t want to lose what I barely had to begin with, so I swooped in like some kind of half-cocked lothario.
And now Euphonia and I were dating.
And it was…weird.
The phone chirruped from the front room and a I did a quick roll out of bed. I managed to catch it on the second ring. Euphonia stirred only just a little. A high-pitched, energetic voice blasted at me from the other end of the line.
“Jackie, you son of a bitch, you better pick up your phone when I call you.” Music played off tinny speakers in the background. Something with a lot of bright, metallic sounds and fast lyrics (about having sex with fictional characters, most likely). Aloysius had weird taste, but we had been friends since I was in college. I had been in the penultimate year of my first literature program, while he was back for his third or fourth advanced degree. Despite an age difference of decades, both of us belonging to the weirder half of the elf species had drawn us together and sort of cemented a cursory friendship. He was still an oddity to me, though, at times.
“Hey, Louis,” I said quietly, trying not to wake Euphonia. “What do you need?”
“Bitch, I need you to come hang out with me. I had a gig on-world, but it ended a couple of hours ago, and now I’m bored. Percy was going to come with me, but he’s doing overtime for this stupid big account of his. So yeah. Come over to my hotel.”
“I don’t really have the time, right now, for this kind of thing.” I honestly didn’t know how anyone could put up with Louis for this long, but those two had been together something like a hundred and fifty years, at this point. There was no accounting for the tastes of vampires.
“Uh, excuse you? Yes you do. The whole point of being managerial is that you have weekends off, right? So you’re not working today. And don’t give me that it’s ‘too early’ either you crepuscular bastard. I know that you’ve been wide awake for ages.” He clucked at me over the receiver. I hated this part of him. He observed and remembered everything just to throw it back at you. It was infuriating. I felt sorry for his boyfriend all over again.
“Look, I have a girl over, okay? And I intend to spend my day with her.” The line went silent for a solid twenty seconds.
“Go get ‘em, tiger.” The phone clicked.
I tiptoed into the bedroom and crawled back into bed. Euphonia, in her half sleep, rolled back over to me and worked her hand under my nightshirt.
“You get phone calls at such weird times,” she murmured.
“Maybe for you, but my friends are up all hours of the night.”
“Well, forgive me for being diurnal,” she yawned. She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead into the crook of my arm.
We laid there in silence in the quiet of the early morning. Her breathing settled into the even measure of sleep. Louis had been right. I was wide awake. This was the time of day that I was most energetic. It was bad enough I had to push through for work five days a week. The fact that my weekends were now muddled, too, wasn’t something I was particularly happy about.
As I stared up at the ceiling, feeling her weight on my chest, I realized that I hated this. This was…awful. We hadn’t been brought together by common interest. It had been chance and intrigue and the shade of mystery her presence in my life had brought. She wouldn’t admit it, but she wasn’t ever going to introduce me to her family or friends. I wasn’t the “right kind” of elf for them. Hell, I hadn’t even had her around any of my friends. I had no idea how she would fit in with them, much less the rest of my life. Everything about us was mismatched from our social standing to our sleep schedules.
Well, not exactly everything.
The physical attraction that had gotten us through the past four months couldn’t last forever, though. All of this, sooner or later, was going to fall apart.
I had to end it. She was too polite. Too refined. Too cautious. She would probably let this…mistake…dissolve into nothing on its own rather than cause a fuss. If I wanted to keep this from getting too far, to keep from breaking each other’s hearts, I had to be the one to pull the trigger.
But…god… her eyelashes are so long and light.
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The Latolan Series
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When the gates first opened on Latolan some eight hundred years ago, the only thing the first explorers found were the drunken ruins of a civilization at least a thousand years dead. Since then, The District has taken advantage of the relative neutrality to make the world the home of its headquarters and most of its government funded projects including, among other things, the Grand Tomar Library. Brought together by a chance of fate, what happens after you find the monster in the dark was just a man all along? A direct sequel to “A Red Ring of Light”.