BOOK OF IMMORTALS

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RAESE - Voiceless

Whitehall, Harridan Hamlet, Paladines (Lost for fourteen years)

RAESE

Tonight, Raese dreamt of climbing ropes until his arms ached. The sensation so real he smelled flowers blooming on the branches near him. Felt the grating twists of rope biting his palms. Since many of the pulleys mysteriously shattered overnight. They were moving armloads of wood by sliding to the ground. His boots crunched over soft vines twining the forest floor surrounding the base of trees. He used the back of one forearm to brush sweat from his forehead. His mouth felt chalky and he was tiring.

I need to check those pulleys. He reminded himself. He’d not had a chance yet but was sure he’d find they’d been tampered with by human hands. Her pretty hands.

Unbuttoning his tunic, he rolled it from his shoulders and caught it in one fist. He ran a hand through his hair, pushing it back from his forehead. The fresh air felt good across his bare torso. He sighed in relief, tossing his shirt behind a tree as he neared the Lake.

Despite that he’d learned much from Benjamin, who worked aside him, he was still curious about the pretty wood wraith. More than curious. I want to get closer.

He couldn’t have imagined his luck as he headed for a drink. Rounding a cluster of trees, he caught the flash of dark hair whipping and saw his movements drew the attention of the bathing woman. He froze, watching her intently.

In one sweep she caught her chemise from atop the lilypads and found footing on something under water to launch herself out. Impossibly perching on lilypads floating the surface.

Raese caught the merest flash of a rounded derriere and shapely back prior to the chemise falling to conceal the tantalizing display of skin.

Before he registered what’d happened, nor mustered words, she slid the second strap of the undergarment into place. Twisting her torso to see him over her shoulder.

When his eyes wandered up to meet hers, he found the sullen look she gave him. As if I’m the worst kind of intruder…

She floated along the surface, only calves and feet dangling in the water. A thick black braid pulled over one shoulder.

Seeing he’d not moved, her eyes slid to the bank next to him.

His gaze followed and spotted the green riding dress trimmed in vibrant bird feathers, complete with leather corset in a pile. Nearby were her boots.

“I presume these are yours?”

Her eyes lifted, but she said nothing.

He sensed her discomfort. “I wasn’t peering on you. My only reason for coming down here was to fetch drink for my parched neck.” Even saying, he noticed how rough his throat was and massaged it to loosen the chords.

He was mesmerized by her damp hair falling around her. Somehow making her look…Vulnerable.

Eyes larger. Seeming younger than he’d have guessed before.

“How old are you?”

She lifted a brow but said nothing.

“I’m not asking because of poor intentions. I ask from a place of pure curiosity since you live out here on your own.”

Her chin hitched slightly but she didn’t reply.

“Not to say I don’t have thoughts of poor intent…” His gaze trailed over her. Catching long swooping lashes framing almond-shaped eyes which dominated her round face. “You’re a very beautiful woman.”

“Do you keep your hair down to hide your face, so you don’t seem so young?”

When she only blinked at him, he took it as an affirmation.

“Do you speak at all?”

Pretty blue eyes assessed him coolly. Dangerously.

She’s a heap of trouble.

And she’s not afraid of me. Uncomfortable but unafraid.

Her features were just interesting enough to be beautiful. With full lips, a perfectly straight nose, Wide alert eyes flickered with intelligence and her circular face made her seem more likely to be a Dread then a mortal.

Meeting his look steadily, she flicked the last strap back off her shoulder, letting it fall near her elbow before sliding the fabric down her arm.

He groaned at the sight of inch by inch of exposed, rounded flesh. Wondering if he was dreaming.

Good God. Don’t interrupt me if I am. Body tense he waited for it to slip lower.

“What are you?” He gasped. Trying desperately, and failing, to rip his eyes from her skin.

When the fabric slid down just far enough to expose the pert tip of one still-damp globe, he groaned low in his throat and turned on his heel. He heard a tiny sound that may have been a single broken giggle.

“Are you a Siren? Trying to lure men to their deaths?”

He heard a splash and nothing further. Surely, she didn’t fall?

He shifted booted feet. She’s just swimming. Not drowning, Fool. He was high tempted to return to see if she needed help.

I really just want to turn around. He admitted to himself. Finally, unable to resist he spun and found her fully clothed in the green riding dress. An enticing glimpse of laced stocking peered just above her high boot revealed by a high split. Her gaze steady on him. Hair, which was nearly dry already, pouring around her face.

Or had it ever been wet?

“You get dressed miraculously fast.”

Disappointingly.

Without a word she harshly tugged on her other glove and cinched the laces running up her forearm.

“Will you say a word to me, Pretty Woman?”

Her eyes flicked up only briefly, focusing on those laces.

Apparently not.

“I feel exhausted from listening to all your meaningless prattle.” He teased.

She paused, and her eyes slid back to him. One corner of her mouth hitching in what could be humor at his words before she spun to stride in the direction of the trees. Shaking her head as though he were a foolish child.

“Wait! You don’t have to go.” He found himself trailing after her. “My friend tells me you’re a Dread?”

She spared him only a cursory glance as she veered around a stump and over a fallen log.

He stumbled after her. Clumsily clopping along.

What happened to my usual animal grace? I sound like a stag in rut. He was disgusted with himself.

“What’s your name?”

She didn’t acknowledge that question.

Okay, no name.

“Where’d you come from?”

Nothing.

“Why do you watch us?”

“You’re destroying my forest.” She said in a voice so pure it was nearly childlike.

What?

“You can speak.”

She gave him a dark look over her shoulder. “When something warrants the saying.”

“Were you trying to tempt me?”

She said nothing.

“Apparently that question doesn’t warrant the answering.” He groaned. Adjusting himself at the mere thought of her dropping that strap on her chemise.

Focus fool.

“Why is Feglen your forest?”

“You should consider it your forest. You’re here as much as I.” She said dismissively. Stepping over logs as she delved deeper into the trees.

“What are you?” He struggled to keep up.

“What are you?” She spun around, and he jerked to a stop nearly nose-to-nose with her. Noting she was tall for a woman.

I’m not telling you that.

When he didn’t answer she eyed his bare chest and stomach. “Where are your clothes?”

“Don’t you like what you see?”

Without another word, she commenced her rapid stride. Ducking a branch.

Unfortunately, his reflexes were dulled, and that same branch caught him square across the head. Knocking him back to land roughly on his backside.

And he remained there. Like a lovestruck child.

Raese awoke to the present, panting heavily. Still feeling the mortification of her rejection and his ungainliness in pursuing her.

Horrifying, really.

Pleasant as the rest of the dream had been, he didn’t care to return to that moment. No need to continue that display. He cringed at the mere thought. Grateful to see his servants had brought in tea, this morning.

Raese noticed he breathed heavily and was coated in sweat.

The smell of damp grass and dirt was gone. Just the slight scent of dust and the aroma of eggs cooking downstairs.

The smell of a cold house.

Instead of a wild forest sprite.

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