Threshold of Sacrifice (Friday Fiction)

I’m primarily a romance writer, but sometimes I like play in the Realm of Weird. The next time I post a Friday Fiction it will be overflowing with romantic bliss. Promise. For today, I chose:

Threshold of Sacrifice

Dakota Storm slipped into the forest, and was immediately cloaked by the dank reach of lengthening shadows. Somewhere up ahead, the murderer blundered toward the Threshold, driven by a need for escape. Boone would be that stupid.

“The idiot would have to rabbit toward the Threshold,” Shane Anders muttered beside him.

Neither was happy to be tracking, but it was too late to turn back. Dakota would have given anything to be someplace other than the realm of the Thunder Being and his Pale Queen.

Several hundred yards ahead, they came upon Boone balled up on the ground. The murderer was curled like a fetus, the muddy ocher of his shirt sharply contrasted against a  bed of ferns. A bloody knife lay a few feet away.

“Boone.” Dakota squatted and rolled him onto his back. He was semi-conscious, his eyes slitted and glazed.

“What the hell’s wrong with him?” Shane asked.

Dakota shook his head. The ground was soaked with blood, but he couldn’t see any sign of injury. Hooking his fingers into Boone’s shirt, he shook him roughly. “What did you kill?”

“It…” Boone made a gurgling sound. His body convulsed and his head rolled to the side, limp as a rag doll’s. Lightning forked from the heavens.

Dakota was immediately overcome by a punishing crush of disorientation. Pressure built in his lungs and boomeranged through his chest, the pain eerily familiar. It spurred an ancient memory, rooted deep in a past he’d hoped to forget.

There was bile in his throat, rancid as sun-rotted fruit. His legs buckled and he dropped to his knees, only half aware of Shane’s strangled gasp. Around him, the Threshold awakened in a fury of wind and sound.

Within seconds it was over. Dazed, Dakota staggered to his feet. Boone was unconscious, Shane sprawled a like a piece of twisted metal. A white rod of bone jutted from his thigh, splintered and webbed with blood.

“Shane!” Dakota stumbled in his haste to reach him, dropping at his side. “Shane! Answer me, damn it.” A string of pulpy pink flesh spilled from a hole in Shane’s gut, reeking faintly of bowel. His lips were bloodless and veined with blue, his flesh cadaver-cold.

Frantically, Dakota pressed his fingers to Shane’s neck, feeling for a pulse. The bitterness of truth washed over him, chased by murderous rage.  The Threshold had called him back to the place of his birth. Stillness mocked him and, in that chill cloak of impenetrable silence, he knew there would never be life again.  Not for Shane Anders.  “I’m sorry, Shane. It’s my fault for leading you here.”

A red glow spooled at the edges of his vision.  He ground his teeth to silence a curse as the Thunder Being emerged from the trees.

The creature was more man than bird, its wings folded over heavily-muscled limbs.  Long black hair framed a face that was neither young nor old, offset by moonstone eyes and crimson lips.  The man, if man he could be called,wore a flowing robe of malachite overlaid by an ankle-length cloak of ebony feathers.  The flinty hardness of his eyes reminded Dakota of blue-veined quartz.

“You killed my friend.”

“He was caught in upheaval of the Threshold’s awakening.  That one,” The Thunder Being indicated Boone.  “Killed a foundling. We have carried it into the Black Dawn.  The foundlings are young ones, still underdeveloped.  They hide in the trees, visible only in the wink of an eye.  The transgression cannot go unpunished.”

“But you killed the wrong man!”

“That is not for me to decide.” The Thunder Being turned and melted into the trees. Dakota sensed a flicker of demonic hunger followed by a subtle kiss of forgiving light.

The Pale Queen had arrived. Tall and willowy with a cascading veil of milk-pale hair, she was unclothed, her body translucent as moonlight.  Only her eyes betrayed color, solid black pools void of pupils or whites.

“You have invaded our home and taken the life of a foundling.”

Unlike the Thunder Being, there was a hint of mercy in the woman’s voice.  Dakota realized rage would accomplish nothing.

“I beg forgiveness.”

“There must be payment for the foundling.”

“Choose another.” Dakota’s thoughts returned to Shane, broken and bleeding, his body limp and lifeless.  It was an image he’d carry forever.

The woman moved from the trees, diaphanous as clouds caressing the face of the moon.  She halted just shy of him, her scent an overpowering blend of clover, wildflowers and decay.

“And who would you have me choose?  The one who killed the foundling?”

Dakota had no use for noble ideas.  He would gladly trade the murderous Boone for Shane. “As you wish.”

“The decision is too easy. The Threshold demands a sacrifice.” The Queen smiled, exposing the pointed tips of her teeth. “I will return the life of your friend, but not for the one you offer. If I breathe life into Shane Anders, what will you give me in return?”

Dakota knew there was only one answer.

“You can have me.”

“That payment I will honor. Thunder Being. Pale Queen, and Black Dawn.” She smiled and slid her hands onto his shoulders. “And then there were four.  Dakota Fury, Storm Prince. This is where you belong.”

He closed his eyes as her teeth sank into his neck.  His last conscious thought was of Shane, alive and well.

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