Hey muse. See anything you like? Author, Lea Griffith’s muse certainly found a story in this picture. Read on!
First of all a big THANKS to Nulli for having me today. I loved doing this and hope she invites me back for more. Of course, now I have plot bunnies hopping all around and this is not good for the stories I have to finish, but there ya go! Nulli sent me three pics and I picked the woods because it spoke to me immediately. My muse took over and what’s below is the product. Hope you enjoy!
And, Nulli? Thanks for letting me spill my words in your reader’s minds. A lot of fun for me and a nice little break.
The fog crept in, insidious and heavy, dampening the sunlight until all she could think, all she knew was its heavy blanket. Everything dulled and it seemed even the trees yawned, great branches crackling in the stillness of the sun’s departing rays.
There was no breeze yet the fog forged on, pressed forward by some ghostly hand that spread its smoke over the green grass and rocky shores of the lake beyond. She was tired. So very tired. Nothing had happened today and she was weary of wondering when, if, it would. It seemed a hundred years she’d been forced to linger here. The truth was she’d been here less than a single day.
A whippoorwill cooed—its dulcet tones reaching out to the drawing grayness then whispering a warning.
Tonight would be it. There would be no endless, ceaseless waiting. The vague warmth of the setting sun played hopscotch between the trees, finally falling in front of her eyes under the fog’s persistence. The leaves swished against each other, quiet lovers in the bowers of the giant sentinels. Caressing and sliding, speaking in tones no mortal could hear, they played in the realms of the huge oaks, loving.
Once she’d been loved like that. Skin stroked, licked, feathered with the softness of his beard. Once, she’d known that peace of her lover’s body slipping and sliding, resting within hers.
Then the fog had come and taken everything Daley loved away.
The sudden cessation of sound mocked her. “Come out,” it whispered. “Come play with me.”
Daley was well aware of what kind of play it offered. The heat of a thousand suns shining down on your head, suffocating you until the breath you craved was filled with endless gray.
“I will not play, Death,” she shouted. The echo was bounced back over and over, off the tress around her, and winging away to that never-ending silence.
Her ears popped and the ground shook. Daley struggled to remain on her feet even as the sentinel’s roots tugged at her feet and legs.
“I will not play!” She would fight.
Beyond the water she could no longer see lay the Cliffs of Forlorn. To make it through theValleyofDeathwas to preserve your place in eternity. The cliffs offered freedom but then a new fight would begin. She would not perish. She had a soul to save. He called to her every second of every hour of every day.
“Child, you have no idea of what awaits you. Let me make your travels easier.” The whisper was beside, around, inside her.
She clenched her fists, the bonds of the rope nothing but a reminder that she would have to fight to free herself. Aric was gone, taken by Death, wasting in this very valley.
“I will not play,” she screamed. Daley infused all of what was left of her heart and soul into the sound, felt the boom rock through the earth beneath her.
The roots fell away and there was a pop as the ground swallowed them. Her ears rang, drums trembling even as thick wetness leaked from her nose. Her wrists burned as she was lifted by her arms up, up, up. The trees whispered and Daley heard their apologies. They hadn’t asked to be messengers for the fog. They had been pressed to service.
Twin branches tickled her bare abdomen before sliding to her sides and puncturing her flesh. Daley screamed as the pain burrowed deep, white hot but not as virulent as she knew it would get. Before day broke the sky again she would be tested in all ways.
She had no choice but to pass. Aric’s call was too great. He needed her and she alone could find him. Tethered at the soul, one could not survive without the other.
“You will play, child. You think yourself smart but my scythe scents your blood. The leaves drink it even now and when the fog passes YOU WILL BE MINE!” Screeches, the caws of thousand flights of crows, and finally Death appeared.
The trees holding her wept. She felt their sticky sap dripping down her arms a benediction to her lacerated and broken skin. Slowly, they lowered her, their roots forming a platform for her body to rest on under their canopy.
“I will not play,” she whispered, lips broken and swollen her own tears burning as they tracked down her face.
“I love you, mo gra. My soul is yours forever.”
“Aric?” she ventured, unsure if she spoke aloud. The absence of sound in this place was deafening.
“He cannot hear you child. Look…” Death taunted and before her eyes the trees were burning, clearing a path for thousands of shadows to writhe and advance.
“They are not real.” If she was trying to convince herself she failed miserably.
The roots beneath her trembled and still the trees burned. She felt the flames, heard the timber splintering under the force of the heat, their wails pitiful. The roots began to sink even as one shadow separated itself from the others and came closer.
It moved with purpose and in the lines of it she knew…Aric.
“No, I will not play!”
Laughter, husky and seductive saturated the air as the shadow drifted over her, touched her body, and slid over her face, down her neck, over her breasts to her hips. The touch was warm; at odds with the cold blackness that floated in its infinite space.
“Do not do this thing, Aric,” she pleaded. Her body had softened, becoming pliant and heated. Pain forgotten as the warmth of desire curled in her belly.
The shadow threw back its head and for a second azure blue light split the darkness of its face. Then it was gone, as fleeting as their time together had been.
The shadow began to work on her bottom wrap, slicing the fragile silk with one wickedly ebon claw. Then the real test began.
“I.Will. Not. Play,” she bit out though the strength was gone from her protestation.
He began to stroke her legs, the feeling a mist of tactile pleasure, suffusing her, making her want. She barely held back her moan, gritted her teeth against the need.
A light flicker of a wet tongue on the arch of her foot, a tiny nip at her knee and she was the one writhing, the hard roots beneath her cutting into her skin.
“Aric, no!” Frantic, feverish, she begged him to overcome.
A claw traced her breast, outlined the furled nipple and drew blood on its path to her navel. Daley hissed in a breath as fire trailed the claw. Another slow, wet lick at her hip and it seemed her heart stopped.
“Mo chroi,” the shadow breathed out, agony in the words, a lifetime of need and desire unfulfilled. Then he vanished.
Daley screamed. No pain suffered on her body could be greater than his loss. “I will never play. Face me.”
The roots dropped back into the ground and her bonds dissolved. She hurt everywhere. Cuts, punctures, claw marks and bruises mottled her body. She scrabbled to her feet, pushed the pain aside and reached for the only thing that had ever afforded her strength.
“I love you, Aric.” It was an affirmation of their bond even through his death. There was no past tense. She’d struggled through a year without him, waiting for the fog to reappear. She’d journeyed here for him and she wasn’t leaving without his hand in hers.
The shadows shrieked and moaned, the trees, no longer on fire clicked their branches together above her, a genuine show of support.
She swayed but kept her feet and the sound of Death approached. She was bleeding, weak and her eyesight was beginning to dim but she stayed upright.
Slowly, Death advanced whistling a merry tune as it tossed its scythe in the air and caught it with a single finger.
“On the edge of my scythe is the blood of your man. You have struggled, but the dawn is some hours away, yet. Tell me, girl, will you die for him?” The voice was kind and it threw her for a moment. Right until Death’s gaping maw opened and the screams of a million souls rent the night sky.
“I will do more than that,” she whispered, knowing she was heard above the cacophony. “I will live for him.”
An eternity passed as she waited. Finally, Death threw off his robe and gestured to her. She advanced—no weapons in her hand, body broken and dying. One step in front of the other, she walked with a straight spine and a call in her heart.
He took her head with one fell swoop.
But the last thing Daley saw was dappled sunlight chasing the fog away.
He was there, standing on the cliff at the edge of Forlorn. Big body lovingly outlined by the silver moon. No longer a shadow, his bronze skin glowed over firm muscles. She had managed to make it until the dawn. Now they would know the light. She called his name and he turned, blue eyes piercing her heart even in the darkness.
His arms opened and even from the edge of the Valley she felt his warmth. She’d journeyed here for him, given up everything to know him once more.
“Mo gra.” His deep voice trembled as he called out to her.
“Forever,” she whispered and listened as it carried to him.
Then he was there in her arms, the scent and feel of him wrapped around her almost more than she could’ve dreamed for.
“Always,” he affirmed rubbing his thumbs along her cheeks. “We should be off. It is a long way and our journey has just begun.”
Daley grabbed Aric’s hand, so big and strong as it cupped around hers.
“Yes, we should.” She smiled up at him, heart nearly bursting with love for this man.
He nodded. Together they walked away from the Cliffs of Forlorn, bypassed theValleyofDeath, and settled on the path that would lead them to Eternity.
Mo gra – Gaelic for ‘my love’
Mo chroi – Gaelic for ‘my heart’
LeaGriffithbegan sneaking to read her mother’s romance novels at a young age. She cut her teeth on the greats: McNaught, Woodiwiss, and Garwood. A firm believer that love makes the world go round, she still consumes every romance book she can put her hands on, but now she writes her own.
Lea lives with her husband and three teenage daughters in ruralGeorgia. Two dogs, a cat, and a Betta fish named Coddy George complete a family always in motion. When not working at the EDJ, she’s usually at her keyboard, using every spare second to write. Science fiction, paranormal and contemporary romance, oh my! Nothing is off-limits when it comes to her writing.
Want to read more of Lea’s work? Her latest book, Retrieval is available now.
Skylar is the hunted. Fashioned for the sole purpose of destruction, she has spent her entire life running from the evil scientist who created her, her father. When a team of retrieval experts hired by her father track her down, neither Skylar nor the team’s leader is prepared for the magnetic attraction that will not let them go. In the midst of danger, with their lives on the line, they forge a bond so tight only death could break it. Together they will fight an egomaniacal scientist as well as their explosive desire for one another to discover what true power is.
Thanks so much for stopping by, Lea!