"Strange Things Did Happen Here" Part 2/2

OFF: This here is my challenge post. Yes it's two parts. Discussion among the players in the absence of the hosts discovered that all of us were solid with two-part challenges being posted - especially since the character counter seems to be skewed. Without confirmation by the hosts as to whether or not this would be an issue, I made the decision to go forward because it was late Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning I was/am meant to drive a couple hours to see a medical specialist regarding surgery on my ankle and wouldn't have time to submit something. Anyway, we're using these posts to tell back story and get our characters well situated in their new societal roles in this new universe. I hope you all enjoy.

ON:

Time: Five Years since arrival in London. Winter, 1887.

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While Vaana’s beauty was truly otherworldly and beyond compare, it had been, and still was, her mind that held Avakhon like a moth to flame and saw to it that he chanced heaven and hell together to see her in ways Lord Vatterott had certainly never. Poetry and music, history and mystery, he’d grown with her and watched her flourish in return as he shared his cases and allowed her the chance to break from the mundane world of politics for a chance at solving crime… The late Earl of Northumberland’s withstanding as it grew colder by the day.

“Avakhon…”

Her voice broke him from his memories, bringing him back to the present, “Are you alright?” She asked, peering up at him with concern darkening her precious face.

In return he offered her a small smile and nodded, clearing his throat as his mind whisked away the spritely remainders of such thoughts, “Your concern for my well-being is touching, and I deeply appreciate the sentiment.” Avakhon finally found his voice, low and soft as he spoke to her, watching the way the dying winter daylight haloed around her delicate form, “But I’m reminded of the position that you hold now. Would one of my stature find you ruined or better for the knowing of me?” He asked, “I saw how your household reacted when I paid a visit by conventional means. It sparked some thought.”

“One of your stature? You’re going to have to provide a bit of context and a definition, Avakhon.” Vaanaras chuffed gently, once more leaving her roost by the windows to find her way towards him. This time there was far less aggression in her stance and far more comfort as she found herself scant inches from him before she ceased all forward motion in exchange for being able to study him and his expressions. As always, the mask he wore gave her some trouble when it came to reading him - but his eyes almost always told the tale. Today they were dark, perhaps even worried.

With practiced ease, Avakhon sunk into the warm depths of a seat and beckoned her to him. She readily followed and rested her hip against the broad arm of the chair, “Simple. I am a man of meager means, it meets my needs and I seek little more than that. You are a Lady of great stature and wealth and position within society and that requires a bit more care to your image and that of those you consort with. For God’s sake you are a Countess. Royalty.” One of his hands moved as if to paint the picture for her he urged her to see, but his mouth tugged into a wry sort of grin as he spoke and he canted back ever slightly, giving himself a far better view of her as she perched ever nearer to him. His head shook slowly as he regarded her, “I… I am a fool, Vaana…” He sighed, reaching to stroke the gruff salt and pepper hairs at his chin and she furrowed her brow and pursed her lips in a combination of curiosity and mild irritation at his sudden choice for riddles and subject matter.

“I’m not quite following you. A fool?” She asked, allowing both brows to inch higher towards her hairline.

Sensing her growing discomfort, the man of smoke and mirrors spurred his own heart and mind hard enough that he finally spoke words that had plagued him for so long but courage refused to rally to his cause enough for him to speak. “I will but state this once, in the hope that it is welcomed by you and reciprocated in kind…” The knot growing in his throat made it hard to continue and he found himself shaking his head as if to say ‘no, never mind’, but looking at her he knew it was more than a game of chance. It was do or die, sink or swim… And he needed the chance to live more than the half-life he’d found himself existing in for the last five years. She’d offered him the brightest part of it, steadily enlightening his existence ever since she’d rode so boldly into it. “I have come to appreciate not only the frail beauty of your body, but the exquisite work of your mind, Vaana… I wish that you could share openly with me a lifetime of exploration and wonderments to behold more than just during the hours we steal after midnight when the world is fast asleep and no one is watching either one of us. Will you have me as more than just some secret of yours? Will you take me as I am as your own?”

His words were more than Vaanaras had ever dreamed she’d hear. The man of mystery, the harbinger of justice, had always seemed untameable and unruly much in the same way a shadow could always be found but never tethered or caught. Never once had she dared to believe that she held any claim to him in all the time they’d spent together. Never once had she dared to think anything more of the way he’d make his way to her in the night or how just the simplest hint of his word would send her to him through the dark regardless of the danger such things presented. Her lips went slack, parting slightly as surprise shook her to the core and threatened to overwhelm her with a roiling tide of emotions churning within her.

At first, words failed her and she feared her tongue had turned to clay. It was her turn to swallow a knot, and her eyes closed briefly as she sought to still the hammering of her heart to no avail. With words refusing to be an option, her fingers reached gingerly for his face, gently stroking his bare cheek and jaw before reaching in an attempt to remove the china mask that hid the other half of his features from her. As always, he quailed from her attempts, moving just out of reach, knowing she wouldn’t pursue him further. She never did and she never complained and her fingers fell short, falling back into the ruffles of her skirt over her lap.

“Vaana… Please…” He whispered, looking up at her, “Please, I beg of you, tell me your answer before I show you this horribleness. I must know before I risk losing you forever. I must know that you can think of me as something other than a hideous monster.”

“Stop…” She interrupted, “You’ve known my answer for a long time, if you truly ask yourself.” The woman sighed, “A monster, Avakhon, really…” How he could ever consider himself one was far beyond her scope of comprehension, and she found herself reaching for the mask again, “I’d sooner be a beggar woman than live a life without you at my side, Avakhon Khinsharri, and there simply isn’t a thing that you could reveal to me about yourself that would ever undo what it is I want and desire when it comes to you.”

This time, against his greater judgment, Avakhon allowed her fingers to reach for him and seize hold of the mask that concealed his less than pleasing features from view of the world. So many had branded him a ‘freak’ in a society that prided physical beauty over any and everything else - and here he was… A broken man laid bare, removing the only safeguard he had to a woman who could have had the world on a string and yet had chosen him above all else time and time again. A woman that left him feeling whole and sane and safe in a place where he’d never felt he truly belonged. A woman that had become his ‘home’ for lack of any better term for the comfort he felt while in her presence. Either way, he couldn’t help but flinch as cool air rushed in to claim the scarred and brutally disfigured skin that the mask had kept succinctly hidden. His eyes closed tight, sealing him away from what he was certain would be Vaana’s utter look of mortal terror and horror.

No gasp.

No scream.

No sudden flourish of activity or demands that her household keep him hostage until the bobbies could come, collect, and dispatch him back to hell.

It simply never came to fruition, but what did rise in its place was the sensation of soft fingertips tracing the ridges and warping along his forehead and browline, down across the roughness of his cheek bone until they gave way to his nose. They held no animosity, nor pity, or fright. There was only tenderness in the way she caressed the most secret part of him until he finally reached to capture her delicate hand and brought her palm to his lips. “You’re a rarity among women,” he whispered against her skin, “I can understand if you’re repulsed.”

“I’m not…” She breathed, carefully removing her hand from his gasp. When he finally looked up, his face colored by his surprise, her head was shaking and any previous irritation had given way to something akin to warmth and gentleness he couldn’t quite comprehend, “I love you.” Vaana’s voice, though soft, rung with certainty and she found herself bending to bring her lips to the parts of him he hated the most, soothing the furrowed, raised skin with several feather soft kisses. It may not have been proper, sharing such a moment and such sentiments with him, but neither had been the times she lay in naught but her shift across her sette while he read to her from some fantastic novella deep in the middle of any number of nights.

“All of you.”

He reached for her then, a massive hand cradling the back of her skull and the nape of her elegant neck, guiding her lips to his as fingers tangled in the perfumed silk of her hair. The feel and taste of her was electrifying, invigorating, but as much as he knew they both desired so much more he found himself releasing his hold on her, softly stroking his fingers along her neck and resting his forehead against hers, “I’ve loved you from the moment I first laid eyes on you, Vaana. I’ve always felt drawn to you, but I made you a promise and I intend to keep it. I’ll find who murdered Vatterott.”

“You don’t have to…” She whispered, dipping to steal another brief kiss from him before allowing herself to be content with simply touching and resting against him, “He’s in the past, Avakhon. Let him stay there. He doesn’t define us.”

“No,” The fingers of his free hand reached to trace the exquisite lines of one of her ears, following it as it blended in and merged with her jaw line, “I made you a promise and I must make good on my word or I am nothing and no good for you. No…” His head shook slowly, “I will find them before the end of the year. Only then will I be good for you, Vaana.”

“You’ll find them and then you’ll agree to marry me? Put all of this nonsense behind us?”
“Yes.” Avakhon answered without hesitation, “I’ll find them, put them to justice, and then I will wed you and we’ll have nothing left to worry about but the stars themselves, Vaana. I swear this to you on my honor.”

And that was all she needed… Her mind was set that she’d throw caution to the wind and set out to quietly help him locate, and neutralize, the heathens that had culled Tulde Vatterott. There would be no more chance to it, no more simply ignoring it and pretending it never happened or that providence had come to swing wide her prison doors, giving her Avakhon Khinsharri in the process. The crime would be solved and she’d know happiness, true happiness, as it was meant to be - and she would do what it took to bring to life such prophecy.

“I know why they killed him.” She whispered softly, “It was because of the Nebula… And I think I know where it is.”

As the sun finally set, the fire grew in Avakhon's abysmal eyes and he held his woman tighter to him knowing that the stories about the ghost ship in the harbor and the emerald, the Nebula, were true.

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