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  1. #1
    Prequel 2: Grace, A Beginning

    Prequel 2: Grace, A Beginning

    Gossamer and Nicolai



    The trainers had come and gone, and her parents, then the medics, then the doctor. A broken wrist, they all agreed - though Gossamer could have told them that just from the angle between her hand and arm. Her arm was freshly in a cast, and much talk had flown around her about how much range of motion she would regain, what therapy she would need to strengthen her muscles once the cast was off, and how soon she could get back to training. It had all been a blur. Now she sat alone in the clinic, no longer anyone's priority now that her broken bones were set and there would be no training till she was healed.

    One of the guards showed up with an ice pack wrapped in a towel as Allasayne had instructed, and Gossamer absently thanked him for it.

    "That has to hurt," the guard said sympathetically.

    Gossamer was rather startled. For all the kerfuffle over her arm, no one at all had been concerned about her discomfort. Only about the setback in her training, and whether she could still do them all proud. She nodded and admitted, "It doesn't feel too great."

    "I'll bet," the guard said. He arranged the ice pack by her elevated injured arm. "I hope you feel better soon. I'm Nicolai, by the way."

    He met her eyes and smiled. Gossamer realized he was handsome, in the pleasant sort of way that didn't demand attention. She smiled back.

    "I'm Gossamer," she replied. "Nice to meet you."

    Of course, he would already know who she was. Everyone did. But he was being so... normal. Just treating her like a person. Not like a goddess to be worshiped, or a promising student to be molded, or a rising star whose favor should be curried. It was very rare for anyone to be normal with her, to talk to her like anyone else, and Gossamer realized how much she liked it.

    "So Gossamer, how...?"

    But whatever question Nicolai was planning to ask was interrupted by Allasayne bustling into the room.

    "Are you finished?" Allasayne asked Nicolai impatiently. "I see an ice pack in place, and no further need for you to be here."

    "Yes ma'am," Nicolai replied, bowing and heading for the door... but not before giving Gossamer one last smile.

    "You look awfully happy for someone with a broken arm," Allasayne told Gossamer when she caught the young woman smiling back.
    Last edited by Sojourn; 02-04-2018 at 12:52 PM.
    "Sleep to dream, and we dream to live..." -Great Big Sea
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  2. #2
    Gossamer and Nicolai



    The guards scanned their duty list for the day, seeing where they would be posted and either complaining or bragging about their assignments.

    "Wow, Nicolai," Darrell said. "You're babysitting the students on medical leave again? Who'd you piss off to get stuck with that?"

    "Oh, I don't mind it," Nicolai replied.

    "Are you serious? It's the most boring assignment ever. You just walk around and around making sure the ones who can't train don't get into trouble... but how much trouble can the injured ones even get into? You have to be out of your mind with how dull it is!"

    "Like I said," Nicolai said with a faint smile. "I really don't mind."


    ***


    For the first time she could remember, Gossamer could just slow down a little. She couldn't train without doing further damage to her arm, so she was left walking laps with her arm in a sling, and she found that having time to just be felt pretty good.

    It wasn't meant to be pleasant. The laps were supposed to be a punishment for getting injured, a monotonous physical task that was the equivalent of writing lines in school for bad behavior. And just in case any of the students got any bright ideas about feigning or causing an injury to get the leeway to engage in forbidden behavior without the usual structure of training, a guard was assigned to keep a careful eye on them.

    Normally, that would have rankled Gossamer, and whichever guard was assigned to her would have gotten either an earful of sarcasm or sullen silence the whole time.

    Gossamer found that it was actually rather pleasant, though - purely because of the company. For the past few days, Nicolai had been walking with her. He might be her guard, but it didn't feel like it. It didn't seem like he was keeping an eye on her. He just talked to her, and she talked to him...

    And somehow, walking laps became the best part of the day.
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  3. #3
    Gossamer and Nicolai



    One morning, Nicolai wasn't there. Gossamer found herself walking with another guard... one whose name she never learned, because unlike Nicolai, he didn't bother to introduce himself. He didn't speak to her at all, in fact, and Gossamer wasn't inclined to make conversation. When Allasayne gave her a hard time about her pace, Gossamer snapped back - but she wasn't really mad at Allasayne, who was just being her normal self.

    She missed Nicolai. She missed having someone to talk to who saw her as more than just a future Arena competitor or a newly ascended First. Gossamer had come to look forward to spending time with Nicolai every day, and now she felt his absence more than she would have expected.

    Her cast was off now, and with her arm in just a split, she thought she could risk going in the pond for awhile. She couldn't swim with the splint, but wading would be something to do when her laps were finished for the day. Allasayne waved her off, and Gossamer walked down to the pond alone, relieved to get away. The shade of the trees was a welcome change from the afternoon sun.

    Gossamer caught a metallic glimpse through the trees. A guard uniform. She rolled her eyes. She was maybe two hundred feet from the rest of her class, separated only by a hill and some trees, but they couldn't even leave her alone to wade in the pond for half an hour?

    Then the guard stepped out from behind a tree into the open, and she saw it was Nicolai. He looked a little uncertain and... an expression she never expected to see on the face of a Guard of War... almost shy?

    "I'm not sure if I should be here," he told her quietly. "I'm not sure if you want me to be here. I'll go if you want. I just... it felt strange not seeing you today. It didn't feel right, not getting to talk to you. I wasn't sure if you felt the same way. But I thought I could at least ask..."

    Gossamer smiled at him. So this was more than just an assignment to him. She'd thought so.

    "I don't want you to go," she said. "I won't tell anyone you came. I'm glad you did. It felt wrong not getting to see you, too."

    Suddenly feeling bold, Gossamer took Nicolai's hand. It was the first time she'd held hands with a man, other than her father's when she was a tiny child. She'd never had a boyfriend. But Nicolai... well, Nicolai was special.

    Keeping a watch for anyone coming and listening carefully for footsteps, Gossamer kicked her shoes off and dangled her legs in the pond. Nicolai did the same, and Gossamer suddenly realized she was grinning from ear to ear.
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  4. #4
    Gossamer and Nicolai



    She wasn't sure what they were to each other.

    Gossamer knew without a doubt that Nicolai was her best friend. They were sneaking off to see each other almost every day, as often as they could get away, and she could talk to him in a way she'd never talked to anyone else. With him, she could be completely honest. And she knew he was completely honest with her.

    Friendship wasn't all that Gossamer felt for Nicolai, though. The way he made her heart beat faster and butterflies appear in her stomach wasn't just platonic camaraderie. She was attracted to him. But did he feel the same way? She wasn't sure, and she didn't want to ruin their friendship if he didn't. After getting used to having Nicolai in her life, she wasn't sure how she would tolerate being alone again if he decided a love-struck goddess was more than he wanted to deal with.

    The day her broken arm was deemed fully healed by the doctors was also the day she got her answer.

    They were sitting by the pond again, watching the sun set, talking as usual when Nicolai tenderly touched her cheek. "Can I kiss you?" he asked.

    Gossamer felt like her heart might burst with joy. She nodded eagerly, and their lips met. It was heaven, a rush of light and heat that warmed her soul. Her first kiss... and though she wouldn't realize it till later, his first kiss too. When it was over, they were out of breath - the result of excitement more than physical exertion.

    "I wasn't sure you'd let me do that," Nicolai confessed. "I mean, you're a goddess, and I'm just..."

    She put a finger to his lips. "You're not 'just' anything," she said. "You're Nicolai. And there's no one in the universe than I'd rather kiss."

    As always, they couldn't linger too long together. People would notice, and ask questions - and their romance was not allowed. Not for a First who belonged to Arena, and not for a Guard of War. Even after they had reluctantly parted, Nicolai back to the barracks and Gossamer to her parents' home, they both carried the joy of the moment with them.

    Gossamer no longer had any doubt; Nicolai was her boyfriend, come what may.
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  5. #5
    Gossamer and Nicolai



    That kiss was the first of many. She got up the courage to tell him that she loved him, and he reciprocated.

    The heat of summer slowly gave way to cooler days. The leaves on the trees started turning to red, yellow, and orange. Gossamer and Nicolai had discovered that the best place to be alone together was the boathouse on the lake shore. The boats weren't being used much now that it was autumn, and they weren't likely to be disturbed.

    It was a rainy night. Heavy gusts drummed against the tin roof and water cascaded in torrents, but inside the boathouse they were snug and dry. That night, Gossamer knew she was ready. "I want you," she told Nicolai. "Do you want me?"

    "Yes," he replied, his voice full of hope and desire. "I love you."

    "I love you too," she said, and started unbuttoning his shirt.

    More clothing followed. There was a convenient pile of cushions in the corner. They looked into each other's eyes, and he ran his fingers through her hair. "Gossamer, are you sure you want to do this?" Nicolai asked.

    "I'm sure," she told him, and kissed him. "I've never been more sure of anything."

    It was the first time for both of them. They didn't know exactly what they were doing... but it didn't matter. They loved each other and wanted to make each other happy. That was enough to make it perfect.

    Gossamer hadn't been raised to expect love. She had always thought when she had a partner, she would be valued for her skill in battle and her genetic potential. That people wanted goddesses just to say they'd been with a goddess. She hadn't thought she'd be more than a check on a scorecard.

    It wasn't like that. After they had finished, he held her and snuggled with her, kissed her and told her he loved her. He wasn't treating her like a goddess... he was treating her like a woman. The woman he cherished. She had never felt more valued.

    "Can this be forever?" she asked.

    "It will be," he replied. "I promise."
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  6. #6
    Gossamer and Phobos



    Gossamer and Nicolai met in the boathouse many nights after that. Sometimes they made love, but not always; there were some nights when it felt good just to hold each other and talk. The shiny newness wore off and was replaced by an even better familiarity, a sense of belonging together and knowing each other on the deepest levels, both physically and emotionally.

    Grace was a world where it was difficult to find uncomplicated happiness, however, and soon the beautiful but fragile dream they had built would be severely tested.


    ***


    Gossamer stood on the platform at Phobos' right hand. The God of Horror was making a protracted speech, but she assumed she knew where he was planning for all the rhetoric to end up. There was only one reason he would ask her to join him before his audience. Surely she had been chosen to compete in The Game on his home planet. There was a slight tightness of fear in her chest, but only slight. She and Nicolai had prepared for this possibility. She was ready. It could cost her her life, but if she could survive it, it would give her the chance to avenge her brother's death.

    For half a second, her eyes met Nicolai's. He was standing with the other guards. No visible acknowledgment passed between them, and they immediately looked away, but the tiny reassurance was better than nothing.

    "...And with the honor of my family and our world in mind," Phobos thundered on, "I have chosen this First, Gossamer Portmore, the Goddess of Spite..."

    Gossamer braced herself. When he announced she was going to Arena, she would have to be an actress and make everyone believe she was thrilled. She could betray no hint of her plan to take them down.

    "...To be my wife!" Phobos finished triumphantly. "I am happy to announce our betrothal. Gossamer is mine, from today until the end of days."

    The crowd cheered and clapped. Phobos beamed magnanimously. Eris took Gossamer by the hand and kissed the air near her cheek.

    Gossamer was pale, silent. She was not expected to respond. No response was needed; the deal was already sealed. No one defied a god.

    She couldn't bring herself to look at Nicolai. How could she keep her composure, seeing the expression that must be on his face? Instead she forced a smile, stared at the ground, and fought to keep from bursting into tears.
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 07-26-2016 at 11:11 PM.
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  7. #7
    Gossamer and Phobos



    The applause and happy cheers lasted for what felt like an eternity to Gossamer, but eventually the crowd was allowed to disperse. Gossamer walked away as quickly as she could without appearing to run, hoping to get some distance from Phobos before he noticed, but he was right behind her. He cornered her in the Council Hall. Gossamer pressed her back against the wall, desperate for space, but Phobos closed the gap and put his hands against the stone on either side of her, trapping her with his body.

    "Why so eager to get away, my lovely bride?" Phobos asked with a sneer. "Aren't you going to kiss your future husband, to thank him for doing you the honor of choosing you?"

    Without waiting for a response, Phobos pressed his lips against hers, grabbing her by the hair so she couldn't pull away and jamming his tongue into her mouth. Gossamer instinctively tried to shove him, and he backhanded her across the face. Gossamer tasted blood. A few passersby looked over at the sound of the blow, but no one moved to intervene.

    "Never do that again," Phobos growled, bringing his mouth close to her ear and speaking in a low, dangerous voice. Somehow it was more menacing than if he had shouted at her. "You will not defy me. You are mine. Do you understand?"

    Gossamer nodded, but he lifted his hand as if to strike her again. Apparently a nod was not enough. "Yes, Lord Phobos," she said. "I will do as you command."

    "Good," he said. "You're learning. You seem a little slow, but you'll figure out the rules with time."

    She faked a smile at him. He smiled back, a bit cruelly, then shoved her roughly against the wall again. Still smiling, he yanked the edge of her shirt up above her midriff and pulled down the waistband of her pants. Gossamer froze in panic; was he really going to force himself on her? Right here, in front of the most influential people on this planet? Would they all just... watch, and tell themselves how lucky she was to have been chosen?

    Phobos had other intentions, though. He unsheathed his knife, a blade that was both viciously sharp and glowed white hot with magical flame. Pinning her right hand with his left, he dug the blade into the skin just above her left hip, drawing blood and then instantly cauterizing the wound into an angry band of scar tissue. Gossamer screamed and tried to get away, but there was another pair of hands gripping her left hand, while a third immobilized her legs. Looking over to see who was helping Phobos mutilate her, she saw it was her mother and father.

    It seemed to take forever, but finally the God of Horror stepped back to admire his handiwork. "PHOBOS" was now burned into her skin just above her left hip. Gossamer bit her lip to keep from crying out in pain, and when the hands finally released her, she dropped to her hands and knees on the floor, trying to catch her breath.

    "I want you in my bedchamber tonight," Phobos instructed coldly.

    Gossamer's heart pounded. She knew he wouldn't allow her to refuse him. He would hurt her, maybe even kill her if she tried. It was best to go along with him... but how could she? How could she give herself to a monster like that?

    "As you wish, Lord Phobos, but..." Gossamer's voice was trembling. She tried to still it. "But I want everything to be perfect for you. Surely it would be more special for you to have a virgin bride on your wedding night? Isn't that what you deserve?"

    Phobos considered that for a moment, and Gossamer could scarcely breathe. Would her desperate ploy work? Surely there was no way...

    "I do deserve that," he finally said. "When I take you, it will be as my lawful wife, and all the world will know I received my due from you. You will keep yourself pure for me in the meantime. If you so much as look at another man, I will kill you. Do you understand?"

    Gossamer nodded. Her bloodied lip ached, and the letters he had carved into her side burned like fire. She had no doubt he would carry through with his threat if he so much as suspected her of anything less than perfect chastity.

    Phobos grinned. "Not that I need to worry," he said. "Not with my mark on you. No man is brave or stupid enough to try to touch the property of the God of Horror."
    Last edited by Monkey Kitty; 07-27-2016 at 12:19 AM.
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  8. #8
    Gossamer



    Over a week had passed, but Gossamer had no opportunity to talk to Nicolai. She was kept very busy, constantly shuttled between events and congratulatory visits and wedding preparations. Gossamer also knew that she had to be very, very careful. The residents of Grace were always watched, but now that she had come to the attention of the God of Horror and was betrothed to him, there would be even more eyes on her. She wouldn't be able to sneak away to see Nicolai as easily as she once had. To be seen with him - to raise so much as a suspicion - could cost him his life.

    The promise of a virgin bride was keeping Phobos somewhat in check, but that didn't mean he was keeping his hands to himself. He continued to force kisses on her, and seemed amused by the reluctance she couldn't quite manage to hide. He also seemed to feel entirely free to put his hands up her shirt, or on her hips, or to grab her posterior. The relentless unwanted touching, often with no warning, left Gossamer in a constant state of physical and emotional tension.

    Phobos was still hitting her, too. She knew she couldn't defy him openly, but any slight annoyance she caused him would lead to a slap or punch. Phobos didn't appear to care if the bruises showed.

    Gossamer was in agony. And even worse than the pain and fear was the knowledge that she had surely lost Nicolai. That the one person who had truly loved her wouldn't want anything to do with her now. Would he blame her for what had happened? Would he think she had planned this, or led Phobos on? Even if he didn't, surely being near her was now too much of a risk.

    She needed to speak to him, though. Even if it was just once. She needed to apologize and beg him to forgive her. What was going to happen to her in the future would be slightly more bearable if at least she could know that Nicolai didn't hate her.
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  9. #9
    Gossamer and Nicolai



    Finally, Gossamer found her opportunity. The Family of War had arranged a hunting party, and while their attention was focused decimating the Gracian wildlife for sport, the attention of the citizens was entirely on their gods. Today, no one was giving much thought to Gossamer, which was a welcome change. Before long, she was able to drift away from Phobos, and then from the gathering entirely.

    She hadn't been quite sure how she would meet up with Nicolai without attracting the attention of the other guards, but that problem solved itself. He had been waiting for a chance too, and when he saw her slip away, he casually began making a "patrol" round that would take him directly into her path behind a stand of trees.

    Now they were facing each other, and even though only ten days had passed since the betrothal announcement, Gossamer felt like they had been apart for a long time. She wasn't sure what to say to him. She faltered... then he opened his arms to her. Gossamer knew they needed to talk, but the temptation of comfort was just too much. She let herself fall into his arms, and felt the tension starting to melt from her body at the familiar, safe feeling of being held by the man she loved.

    "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry... I didn't know he was going to do that. I didn't know..."

    "It's not your fault, Goss. You didn't do anything wrong. Has he been hurting you?"

    "It could be worse. He hits me. He puts his hands on me and makes me kiss him. I've convinced him to wait till the wedding to make me go to bed with him, but Nicolai... it's going to happen. He won't wait forever."

    "I'll kill him!" Nicolai said. "I'll stop him. I'll protect you."

    "You can't," Gossamer told him sadly. "It's wonderful of you to want to, but he's stronger than both of us. He's an ancient god. He'd kill you."

    "I don't care!"

    "I do," Gossamer said. "You're willing to die for me because you're brave, but then what? You'd be dead, and I'd be all alone. I can't do that, Nicolai. I can't lose you. I can't bear that. Phobos will do whatever he wants, but I can't live through that if you're gone from the world. Even if you never want to see me again, just knowing you're alive and safe..."

    "Never see you again? Goss, this isn't going to change anything between us. He can say whatever he wants, but he can't change reality. We love each other. You're my girlfriend. I'm not going to abandon you."

    "He'll make me marry him, Nicolai," Gossamer said, looking at the ground. "He'll make me share his bed and bear his children. You really want a woman who is being used by another man?"

    "I want you, Gossamer. Whatever that entails. We'll see each other when we can, and someday we'll find a chance to get away - a chance to be together. Whatever happens in the meantime, you'll still have me. If..." This was hard for him to say, to even think about, but it had to be said. "If you have children from him, we'll take them with us and raise them together. I'll be their father, and you can give them my last name. I know it will hurt, but... we'll be together, Goss. Whatever that takes."

    Gossamer felt like a weight had been lifted. Her situation was still difficult, but she wouldn't have to face it alone. "Whatever it takes," she agreed.
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  10. #10
    Gossamer



    Nicolai remained true to his word. They couldn't see each other as often as they used to, but whenever they could, they would sneak away together - even if only for a moment, to reaffirm their commitment. They would stay together, they would find safety, and someday they would take down the Family of War so the rest of their people would be safe too.

    When Gossamer started noticing symptoms, she attributed it to stress. As a second month passed, the truth became more difficult to deny. Gossamer was pregnant.

    Contrary to what she had feared, though, Phobos was not the father. They had not yet married, and though he was still taking liberties, nothing Phobos had done with Gossamer could have resulted in conception. The baby could only be Nicolai's.

    Gossamer knew that should frighten her. Phobos would be angry... beyond angry. He would be murderous. Though Phobos wasn't the brightest god in the universe, he was surely smart enough to understand that the child of a woman he hadn't slept with must be someone else's, betrothed or not. His retaliation would be severe.

    But somehow, Gossamer was glad. She loved Nicolai, and she wanted this baby. There were options - safer options, like quietly ending her pregnancy or telling Phobos she had changed her mind about waiting and then convincing him the baby was his. Even as she thought through what she could do, though, Gossamer knew in her heart that she wouldn't. No matter how difficult it made her life, she wasn't going to give up that easily. She had to try. She had to go on believing in the future she would have with Nicolai - and now with their child also.

    She hadn't yet had a chance to tell Nicolai about the pregnancy when Allasayne announced that she was taking Gossamer to Elysia to make introductions for her, as a newly ascended First and now future wife of a member of Arena's ruling family. The Family of War also had business on Elysia, and as soon as Nicolai found out Gossamer was going, he made sure to volunteer for duty in their retinue.

    Gossamer wasn't quite sure what their time on Elysia would hold, but perhaps there would be some sort of opportunity to turn their fates around.
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