Eye of the Tempest
Page 14

 Nicole Peeler

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“Dude, was there a puddle of cynicism waiting on your wrong side of the bed this morning?” Grizzie asked, her expression clearly horrified. “Life is always big. It’s your life.”
But what if you’ve lived a hundred lifetimes? I asked silently, thinking of the preternatural calm of the Alfar. Is it still “life,” then? Or something a lot less lively?
“Take me as an example,” Grizzie was saying. “If you want to talk about life experience, I’ve ratcheted up quite a bit in my time. I’ve done lots of crazy, extreme things. I’ve not only been around the block, but I’ve burned the block down. At least twice.”
I couldn’t help but agree. Grizzie had lived a very crazy life.
“And I’m still enjoying life, Jane. Cuz that’s how I choose to be. I think that you’re mistaking certain people—people who have this ‘been there, done that’ attitude to everything—with people who’ve experienced a lot of stuff. They’re not the same thing. I bet the people who walk around acting like they’ve already done everything twice were walking around like that before they did anything. It’s just who they are. People who want to live? They live.”
Bizarrely enough, the person I thought about as Grizzie finished speaking was Morrigan. She’d convinced everyone she was everything Alfar immortality represented: something cold and detached, like a living zombie.
But Morrigan fooled us all, I thought, realizing that what Grizzie said had a lot of merit. Yeah, Morrigan was clearly a conniving, evil bitch. But while those weren’t the best character traits, they were definitely a choice she made and they were definitely anything but cold and detached. She’d chosen to live as a cheating, murderous, purist monster, but she’d definitely chosen to live.
But that doesn’t mean you, Jane True, can compete with all of Anyan’s life experience, my brain cut in, rather rudely. My libido gave it a raspberry, but it was still too caught up in its own spanking fantasy to formulate any kind of real argument against my pessimistic logic.
“You don’t look convinced,” Grizzie said, frowning.
“No, I think you’re totally right about what you were saying,” I replied, shaking my head. “I think you’re right about choosing to live versus just living.”
“But… that doesn’t change the fact that he’s lived a lot. And I haven’t.”
Grizzie’s wide mouth frowned even more, and she walked toward me until she was perched next to me on the break table, one arm around my waist.
“Are you saying that you think he’s too good for you, Jane True?”
My silence was my only answer.
Grizzie sighed, clearly at a loss. “That’s just… stupid,” she replied, eventually.
I couldn’t help but laugh. Grizzie laughed too, but without a lot of humor.
“I don’t really know what to say, honey. You know I think you’re amazing and perfect and gorgeous. And I know Juan wants you and he’d be silly to pass up the opportunity you represent. But who knows what another person’s priorities are? Some people still think Tracy was crazy for taking up with me, or that I’m crazy for staying with Tracy.”
I frowned at her: my turn to protest.
“I know you’re not one of them,” Griz said, squeezing me closer. “What I’m saying is that people never make any sense. Who knows what the hell they’re thinking half the time. But there was something about you and Juan together that was… comfortable. Sexy and sparky, and all of that… but also comfortable. You look like you fit. Fit for what, I dunno. Maybe just for a few months of jungle sex, maybe for a lengthy future culminating in an old age full of tons of grandkids and a smattering of broken hips. Who knows? But in the meantime, give yourself a fucking break. You’re a catch, for anybody’s net.”
I strained upward to kiss Grizzie on the cheek. I wasn’t so sure about my being a catch, but she was right about the other stuff: I didn’t know anything about what was going on between Anyan and me, because there was nothing yet to know. I needed to stop worrying about it and let things play out.
Hopefully with added jungle sex and little or no hip breakage, I thought, wondering for the trillionth time in our friendship at Grizzie’s propensity for terrifying imagery.
“Enough about me,” I said. “I want to hear all about you, Tracy, and the babies.”
Grizzie grinned, and her happiness was so dazzling that it made her earlier ball-and-chain jokes all the funnier.
“Well, Tracy’s being a total cow and pooh-poohing all my baby names. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with Lesbia! It was a perfectly acceptable name to the Romans.”
Walking toward Anyan’s that night, I was still giggling over Grizzie and Tracy’s Great Baby Name Debacle. For a girl, Tracy was leaning toward Christie, Loren, and Abigail, while Grizzie was adamant that Lesbia, Sappho, or an unpronounceable Goddess symbol were totally the way to go. It got even worse with boys names. Tracy had suggested Wyatt, James, or Thomas, but Grizzie was gunning for Rock A. Billy or the completely inexplicable choice of Manchego.
The thing with Grizzie is you could never really be sure when she was serious.
Manchego’s gotta be a joke, I thought, keeping my focus on the hilarity of the afternoon’s events rather than on the fact that I was walking toward Anyan’s. If I had stopped to think about it, however, my thoughts might have gone something like this:
VIRTUE: You’re just going to train with Nell, as usual. Don’t get all crazy.LIBIDO: I’ll give Anyan a training!VIRTUE: You’ll do no such thing. (A) He is undoubtedly the one who will do the training, both inside and outside of the bedroom. (B) This is the time for magical training. Not the naughty kind! LIBIDO: Mmm. Naughty.VIRTUE: Focus!LIBIDO: I’ll give Anyan a focus!VIRTUE: I hate you.  
After that little exchange, both my virtue and my libido quieted. Then I noticed how sweet and crisp the air was scented by the ocean and the first hints of spring. In other words, I was really enjoying the long walk back to Anyan’s when my cell phone rang. I dug it out of my purse, and then frowned when I saw who was calling.
“Hey, Ryu,” I said, after taking the call.
“Jane!” Ryu said, practically shouting. “It’s so good to hear your voice!”
I paused before speaking. In my memory, it had been only a little bit ago that we’d had our final spat outside the Healer’s mansion. But for him, I’d been comatose for a month. During which he’d apparently come and visited me a few times and helped to investigate the humans who had attacked us. In other words, he’d had a month to act as a good friend, rather than the angry ex he’d been after he’d again found me with Anyan.
“Thank you, Ryu. And thanks for coming to Rockabill and helping out.”
“Oh, no, it was the least I could do. How are you feeling?”
“Totally fine. Ridiculously well, actually. Although we’ve still got a lot going on here.”
“Yeah, I know. I’ve been talking with Caleb about it. Do you need me up there?”
The question was a loaded one, if I’d ever heard it.
“You know what?” I said, carefully. “I don’t think so. But if we do, you know we’ll call you right away.”
He paused, with relief or disappointment, I don’t know. I couldn’t assume either reaction—after all, I know he had cared for me, but he was also Ryu. And a month was a long time for someone like him, despite his longevity. He was a mover and a shaker, not a waiter-arounder.
After that we made some small talk for about ten minutes. We discussed Caleb and Iris, and we talked about my dad having been healed. We did not talk about Anyan. Eventually, Ryu was the one to wrap up the conversation, reminding me that all I had to do was call and he’d be there in a snap.
I thanked him, and I meant it. Then he hung up. And then I waited.
Only to discover that nothing happened. I didn’t feel any unrequited lust, or any anger, or any grief. I felt the pleasant feeling one feels when they’ve talked to someone who is important to them, and the conversation had gone well. I felt like… Ryu and I could be friends.
And that felt good.
Less good, however, was the other thing I suddenly both felt and heard: an explosion from somewhere to my right.
What the fuck? I thought, as the rest of the forest went silent.
I was about halfway between the edge of town and my house, so basically in the middle of nowhere, which meant it couldn’t have been a car backfiring. Plus, it had been strong enough to be felt, and not just heard, so that meant some kind of explosion. And as most of our locals avoided hunting with grenades, an explosion had to be something nefarious.
Another huge boom rocked toward me again, but this time I was ready. Putting out my feelers, I recognized a clear undercurrent of magic.
Without thinking, I raised shields and a mage ball and ran toward the sound. Well, scrabbled is more accurate, as the underbrush was pretty dense. When I did start thinking, my first emotion was pride that I had, finally, learned some reflexes that sent me toward danger rather than from it. My second emotion was to worry about what the fuck I was getting myself into.