Currently listening to “Home” by Natalie Grant.
The song I’m listening to actually sort of fits with the topic of this post. Funny how that works…
So, the mind is an interesting thing. I’ve gone probably more than a year without writing anything notable on Remnant Moon, the sequel to my retro fantasy novel, Prism World. Yesterday, however, I started getting the stirrings of ideas, and today I’ve been working like a madwoman to get timelines and details organized so I can remain accurate as I write.
While looking through previously written material for this series, I came across a couple of short stories I wrote but never posted, though I’m pretty sure I wrote about them in a previous post. With my inspiration for the series coming back to me (and since I’m gearing up for a really busy rest-of-the-week/weekend), I decided it was about time I post them here.
This first one is called “Viper and Mercy,” and sets up the second one, which I will post tomorrow, called “Viper’s Last Stand.” Even though Viper is only ever mentioned in the Prism World series, and Mercy never does feature prominently in any of the stories, they are still two characters who have a lot – and I mean a lot – of influence on the course of the plot.
Before I post them, though, please be warned: These stories are not for children. While I wouldn’t call them graphic, the content is definitely not kid-friendly.
You have been warned.
With that being said, here is the first of the short stories. Thanks, and happy reading!
“Viper and Mercy”
I was only just 25, a newly-retired Phantom, when I first heard his name.
“She’s a very efficient Phantom,” I heard the masters say. “She never requires a second shot. Despite her emotional weakness, she is obedient, and I have seen few Phantoms with the reflexes that that one possesses. She would be an ideal match for Viper.”
I didn’t know what or who Viper was, but the masters’ mention of my emotional weakness frightened me. I curled up on my bed, hugging my knees to my chest and burying my face between them.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
As though to spite me, tears began to flow out of my eyes and trickle down my bare legs. I couldn’t help it. This was how I had been my entire life. I was always crying. It was how I got my name: Mercy.
I tried to be a good Phantom. I tried to make the masters happy with me. But I couldn’t. I hated to kill. I cried for every person I did kill. I wanted it to stop. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to stop hurting and being hurt. I wanted to stop crying. But ever since that day…ever since the day I had been forced to make my first kill…been forced to kill the nurse who had raised me, the only person who had ever treated me kindly…ever since that day, my tears were my only constant companions.
The sound of footfall outside my door brought me back to reality, and instinct made me dart away into a dark corner of my room. I couldn’t let the masters find me. They would punish me if I was visible when they came in.
The door opened, and two pairs of feet entered the room.
“You can come out now, Mercy.”
Cautiously I pulled myself out of my hiding place and moved over in front of the master, my hands clasped together in front of me and my face turned to the side to try and hide the tears. It wasn’t as if the master would have been surprised, though. They had come to accept my tears as one of my odd little traits.
“I’ve brought you a companion,” the master said, motioning to the second figure who had entered the room. “His name is Viper. He will help you create a new Phantom to protect our government. Do as he says, and be a good girl.”
I nodded faintly.
Create new Phantoms? I didn’t really understand it, but if that was what the master wanted me to do, I would just have to obey. There was no escaping them.
I didn’t move until the door closed and the familiar darkness of my room enveloped me again. Then I looked up.
He was a tall man, the one who stood in front of me. His hair, which was mostly black with only slight hints of grey intermixed in it, hung just above his shoulders, framing a strong yet pale face. He watched me closely through a pair of familiar coal-black eyes. There was something about his eyes, though, that caught me. They were alive. I had seen other Phantoms only a handful of times, but never had I seen one with eyes as intelligent and vibrant as his. I wanted to know what that glimmer in his eyes was, but I didn’t know how to ask.
I opened my mouth, closed it again, then said in a barely audible voice, “I will…do as you say.”
Viper stared at me for another long moment. When he spoke, his deep, rumbling voice sent excited chills down my spine. I liked his voice.
“Lie down,” he said, motioning toward the bed.
I glanced between him and the bed, then cautiously did as I was told, lying down on my side and curling my knees up to my chest as I looked up at the person in front of me.
Again he watched me in quiet thought. He was always doing that. Always watching.
Slowly Viper sat down on the bed at my side, his dark eyes studying my face. He was quiet for a long time, but then his eyes softened.
“Do you like the masters?” he asked suddenly.
My heart lept slightly at the question as a feeling of dread washed through my body. I curled my knees closer to my chest and looked away from him.
“Yes,” I managed to squeak out.
No. I don’t. I really don’t.
But I couldn’t say it. I was too scared. If the masters heard me say otherwise, I would be punished.
Again Viper sat silently for several moments. Then, all of a sudden, he moved, gently cupping my face in his hands and turning me so that I had no choice but to look at him. He moved his face closer to mine, pressing his forehead against my own. His eyes were so soft.
“Really?” he asked. “You don’t have to lie to me. Tell me the truth. Say what you want to say.”
Images of all the people I had killed began to stir through my mind, and instantly my tears began to fall again. I couldn’t even see Viper’s face anymore, and so I squeezed my eyes tightly shut, as though somehow that would chase away the horrid memories.
“No,” I cried softly. “No, I don’t. I’m scared. I’m really scared. The masters scare me. Please don’t tell them. I’m sorry. I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I know I’m weak. I never wanted to kill anybody. But I don’t want to be hurt again. Please…”
I never got to finish my sentence, because the next thing I knew, Viper’s lips were covering mine, drowning out my words. It was a sweet, exciting, yet absolutely terrifying thing for me.
For such a big man, his kiss and touch were surprisingly gentle. His lips didn’t leave mine until I stopped trying to talk, then he pulled away and, pushing my knees down and away from my chest, drew me up against him, wrapping a broad, strong arm around my body in a protective embrace.
“It’s alright,” Viper said soothingly, using his free hand to wipe at my tears. “You should never apologize for that. The masters don’t deserve that much.”
I don’t know how long we laid there, his broad chest and strong arms completely enveloping me. He didn’t say anything else, but he didn’t need to. His eyes told me everything.
I’ll protect you. I’ll comfort you. I care for you.
Quietly I wrapped my arms around him, burying my face in his chest. The touch of another person…a gentle, loving touch…I didn’t realize how much I craved it until this moment. Only one person had ever hugged me before. And because of that…the masters had forced me to kill her.
Again I began to cry as a chill of fear spread through my body. Would the masters make me kill Viper, too? Why was it so wrong for someone to treat me with kindness?
I don’t want to hurt him.
I felt Viper move then, and I looked up into his warm, dark eyes. He was looking at me worriedly, as though to ask me what was wrong. That only made me cry harder.
“I don’t want to hurt you,” I cried. “I don’t want them to make me hurt you. Never again. So if being kind to me means they will hurt you, please stop. Please don’t die.”
To a normal person, my outburst would have seemed bizarre and absurd. But it was almost as though Viper could read minds, because instead of looking at me strangely, he rolled me over on my back, straddling me and cupping my face in his hands as he pressed his forehead to mine. The barest hint of a smile caused his lips to turn upward slightly. There was a gleam in his eyes, as though to say, “We’ll both be fine.”
And finally, for the first time in my remembered life, I felt my body begin to relax.
I didn’t resist as Viper kissed me, running his lips and hands all over me. It was as though he sensed all the pain, and fear, and loneliness that I had felt over the years. There was a passion in him that I had never seen in any person before or after. And always, whenever possible, he kept his eyes locked on mine, as though to constantly make sure I was all right. If ever I acted like I was scared or in pain, he would pause, watch me, sometimes even go back to gently kissing me on the forehead and cheeks. And I trusted him like I had trusted no one else before.
Time passed. And when he was through, Viper gently wrapped the blankets around us and pulled me as close as he could, burying his face in the crook of my neck and breathing in deeply.
I wrapped my arms around him and hugged him back. The happiness and calm I had felt earlier exchanged themselves for a feeling of fear and sadness again, and I could feel the sting of tears at the backs of my eyes as I asked the question that was now gnawing at my mind.
“Will you stay with me?” I asked.
Viper’s shoulders sagged at the question, and slowly he leaned back, looking at me apologetically. I knew the answer, and so the tears began to fall again.
Quickly I put my palms to my eyes, trying to will the tears away. I was angry with myself for not being able to stop them.
I really am a horrible Phantom.
All of a sudden, Viper pulled my hands away from my eyes and kissed at the tears that were falling. He kissed the palms of my hands, then pulled me close, pressing my ear to his chest. I could hear his heart beating rapidly, a loud and strong thump that rumbled the way his voice did. Again he buried his face in my neck and tightened his arms around me, as though to tell me he didn’t want to let go.
We sat like that for several minutes. Then, at last, Viper released me and reached for my clothes. He gently helped me dress, then put his own clothes back on before curling up on the bed with me again. He was a good judge of time, I later realized, for within a few minutes, the sound of footsteps in the hall outside caught my ears.
Instinct made me try to jump up and hide, but Viper held me tightly, his eyes focused firmly on the concrete wall nearby, as though the look alone would bore a hole through it.
The door opened, and I curled up into as much of a ball as I could muster while plastered to Viper’s chest, trying to hide my face from the light and the master that stood in the doorway.
“I’m here for you, Viper,” the master’s voice called out.
For a moment, Viper didn’t move. When he did, he turned to glare daggers at the master.
I could sense the master stiffen.
The voice was guarded and contained an audible warning.
Viper drew in a long, deep breath, sighing deeply before pulling himself away from me. The master stepped to the side, motioning for him to leave, but he paused for a moment to look back at me. I sat up on the bed, trying to control the tears that threatened to flow.
With his back turned to the master, Viper gestured slightly toward his own heart. Then, with one last glance, he stepped out into the hall and the door closed behind him. Once again, silence enveloped the darkness, and for the first time I realized just how empty my room was. That was when I began to cry. I already missed him. And I always would.