The Sentinels gayatri
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#1
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he wondered if ford and his crew were succeeding in making the bay their own. knowing that their claim was rooted in both history and desire, he kept far from the place, though did not extend that same courtesy to the charred forest. as far as he was concerned, this was neutral ground.

besides, he was intrigued by the spirits that seemed to linger here, the voices, at once far-off and nearby, of souls long gone.

govinda weaved through the place, admiring the small bursts of green that marked the emergence of new life. tiny saplings, amid the ruin. it was an apt metaphor for his own life, and he sat and stared at one such specimen, imagining that he could see it grow, slowly but surely. tiny leaves and stems, reaching toward the sky. one day, it would be as majestic as its forebears.

he wondered if it would meet the same fate as the sequoias, burned alive. he wondered if that was all there was to life--no, he knew it, a truth within the marrow of his bones.

to live, to die, to be born again only to die again. bodies reduced to nothing by flames, by floods, by flu or fangs. but bodies were only temporary; souls were forever.

how old was the soul within this sapling? how old was his?
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#2


to be fair to the handsome wanderer, the sentinels were neutral ground.  it just so happened that lilia inhabited them, and she was wary of who stepped foot in the forest.  she would not let anyone desecrate these lands (ignorant of the fact that she had been too late).  

she moved gracefully through the ruins, to an outsider she would appear too beautiful for a place as decimated as this, and she stopped as soon as she saw him.  he was staring at the new life.  she wondered if she could feel emaleth and deirdre here, just as she could.  hello.
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she was too beautiful for a place like this--but then again, so were the saplings. his breath caught suddenly as he turned to face her, golden eyes drifting down her golden form. a lopsided smile painted his mouth, his tail moving slowly behind him as he responded, "hello."

for a moment, they stood staring at each other, until govinda found the composure to speak again. "what brings you here?" too late, he found the smell of the bay wolves on her pelt, and opened his mouth to amend his question. . .but shut it again, letting her explain inside. her voice was soft and lovely; he wanted to hear it once more, rather than the salt-scoured rattle of his own.
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she covets the way his eyes linger upon the curves of her hipbone, the scallop of her ribcage.  she has been looked at like that before; it is the look most men wear when they see her.  perhaps one day she will stop chasing that feeling, maybe once she's a little older or she's settled down.  but for now she is still young, and she is not yet tired of the way that boys and men both look at her.

she doesn't answer his question.  instead she lets a small, thin smile emerge as her features light up.  it's foolish, she knows, for there are few who believe in spirits anymore.  even her siblings seem to take after their father.  yet, i can feel the spirits here.  deirdre.  emaleth.  my family.  she knows that donnelaith lost many to the fire, and she wonders if there are still spirits who have not spoken to her.  what about you?
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her words brought up the ghosts of the dawnlark fire. how many had perished, there? he had not seen shale again, and dawn had never been the same. what else had been lost? a fine shiver ran through him, and he nodded slowly, glancing around before returning his stare to hers. i understand, he murmured.

govinda shrugged. i have been wandering up and down the coast for a moon, now, the man responded, the emptiness of his travels apparent in his voice. i have no real home; wherever i get tired is where i stop and rest. he must sound like a sad-sack to this ethereal, youthful fae. or perhaps she was captivated by his words; perhaps he is the embodiment of a nightmare she has only heard about but not experienced herself.

wolves loved to hear about such things, but to live it was another matter altogether.
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oh how she grieves for him!  they are on the same wavelength, it seems — only, she has found her home while he still wanders.  she loves the way she feels when she is in the forest and upon the shores of the bay, for she can feel once more the blood coursing through her veins.  the travel down had been so raw and lonesome she thought she could die ... !

or perhaps that was teenage dramatics.  she was still prone to them; with lilia, it was the best thing or the worst thing that had ever happened, and there were very few shades of grey.  if it is company you desire, i have no shortage of time.  if it was a home, he'd have to impress more than just her easy heart.
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i always desire company, he responded, the affable grin returning to his face. particularly from a girl like yourself. the sentiment went unspoken, but she could probably read it in his eyes, anyhow. she seemed intuitive enough for that. walk a while with me?

he took off at a slow pace, waiting for her to draw alongside. my name is govinda, he continued, once she had caught up. are you with ford's group? i smell them on your pelt. innocent enough question, he thought. they had, after all, been around this forest as well, though they had assured govinda the bay was their only claim.

he didn't want to step on any toes.
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she regarded him with a warm, inviting glance as her long legs drew her to his side, agreeing wordlessly to walk beside him.  though he was much larger than her she'd have no trouble keeping up; her long, coltish legs would make sure of that.  she listens to him, an ear drawing attention as her eyes draw across a twisted stub that had once been a tree, the shoreline,

his scars,

then quickly away.  lilia, she says in turn, i am.  they are my brothers.  i take it they liked you, since you still have your hide.
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he laughed at last, the warm sound ringing off the charred sequoias. indeed, govinda replied, eyes dancing as he looked at her. i took to ford, especially. we are both men of the sea. we understand each other. he stepped nimbly over a branch, casting his gaze down to watch where he was going before returning it to the girl. and you, lilia? are you a seawolf, too?

perhaps, but there was something that made her different from her brothers, something beneath the gilded pelt. had he known the mayfairs, he might have supposed it for the magic that ran through that family, touching each and every one of them. but he didn't, and so for now, he could only wonder as to what it was that set lilia apart.
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his laugh was rich and sweet like smoke-steeped whiskey, and it struck her at once that it was too pure for a place that had been so tarnished.  her mouth made an o, before she was able to remember herself, and she hoped that he didn't catch how openly she stared.  i am, she said, nimbly prancing over the branch, the very best.

she looked over her shoulder, where the sea crashed against the stone walls.  i can show you some time, if you'd like.
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he did not miss her stare, though he did not mind it. hadn't he been staring at her the same way? show me? he chuckled, one corner of his mouth tugging in a half-smile. what do you want to show me? swimming? a song and dance routine?



and then the fleeting shadow that took shape in the form of coelacanth, twirling in elegant dance on the sand. mesmerized, he sat, watching the girl's performance. hawkish gaze following her every move. how she told a story! one of loss, though with a sweet tinge to it. and happiness from long ago, and a healthy dose of good humor.

he could never tell a soul, but he loved the dark-pelted woman. differently, perhaps, than he loved dawn--but he loved her all the same, and it was a weight on his heart.




like the sun setting, the light abruptly died from his face as the hunter's moon rose before him once more, except its rays were not the flames of desire, but pulsing blood--

bismil, bismil, bulbul-e-bismil--

seelie's pelt, glossy black but the blood glossier still--

mat mil, mat mil, gul se mat mil--

bile rose in his throat, and he stifled a gag, swallowing and turning his head away, lowering it. taking a breath in with each couple of steps, letting it out in a rhythmic fashion. this went on for a few cycles until he felt calm enough to face lilia again, and did so with apology writ over his face.

i'm sorry, govinda whispered. show me your talents. but don't. . .please, don't--don't dance for me.
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whatever plagued govinda was deeper than she could ever comprehend, at least right now, at her age, with her experience.  there is something ugly about reminding someone of something they have lost and her lip flattens before her features smooth back over.  she does not speak again but instead she begins to canter towards the water, dainty paws barely touching the ash and sand.

she casts a beckoning look over her shoulder at him as she reaches the water, then disappears beneath the waves entirely.
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--and then she was gone, running toward the sea. he followed, breath coming hard and fast, unsure of where she was leading him--or why. she cast a look back that sent electricity through him and then plunged into the surf, the gilded form swallowed by gray-green water.

haye bhagwaan, govinda murmured, and followed after her, his legs moving without volition. the waves spatter against his chest, his face; he loses his footing once or twice, eyes squinted nearly shut against the brine. lilia--or what he thinks is lilia--is close by, and he half stumbles, half paddles toward her, laughing despite himself.

what are you doing?! he asked, pitching his voice high and loud above the insistent roar of the ocean.
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she is unperturbed by the brine that enters through her nostrils, and she has trained herself to withstand — no, revel in — the sting of salt that comes to her eyes.  as beautiful as she feels on land she feels tenfold in the water as she moves through it, floating, weightless, legs never touching the bottom.  her nose shifts across the seafloor to uncover its beauties; the serrated seashells, glistening seaglass.  

but she can only hold her breath for so long, and the sound of govinda's laughter pulls her back to the surface.  there is a whole world under there, just as beautiful as the one inland, she delivers breathlessly.  look, she beckons before disappearing once more beneath the churning waves.
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he cast her a dubious look, but dived under anyway, promptly smashing his nose against the seafloor. govinda surfaced, sputtering, a throbbing pain over his muzzle as he blinked the water from his eyes. just as cruel as the world inland, too, he remarked, perhaps to no one in particular, if lilia had not come back up yet.

still, she had a point. in the brief instant before the crunch, it had felt peaceful, the murmur of the waves above his head--but a quiet stillness to the water, a darkness that seemed more like a womb than a void. it reminded him of his conversation with hari, but in a good way, helping him to remember all the beautiful things about drifting from one life to the next.

govinda sniffed, wondering if the salt he tasted was brine or blood from his nostril.
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there is a moment of bliss before she hears some sickening sound reverberate through the water, and in an instant her companion is resurfacing.  when she breaches the surface of the water she can smell the blood on him, and her mouth falls slightly as she moves closer to inspect.  facial wounds were always the ones that bled the worst no matter how severe (or not) they ended up being.  are you okay? and then, i can take care of that, if you wanted.  that's — that's my real talent.
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if you think it's best, govinda responded, chuckling, his voice slightly hoarse from swallowing sea water. he began to trudge his way back to shore, coat wet and heavy, the thin trail of snot-tinged blood trailing down his muzzle. he stepped away and shook himself out, then sat dutifully on his haunches, staring at lilia.

so you're a healer, then? he asked. some of the kindest people i've ever known have been healers. it suits you. she reminded him of a mixture of dawn and pema, and that tugged at his heart more than he would ever admit. he missed the two of them immensely, made worse with the knowledge that he would likely never see them again.
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she shrunk beneath the moniker of kind.  it was not an uncommon adjective to be associated with her, but she never understood it.  she was so conventionally and exotically beautiful on the surface that it was easy for others to associate good things with her, such as kind or compassionate.  it was better that way, that they did not see the darkness that gnawed away at her bones.  when her spirit animal had revealed itself to her, she had wept.  all she could remember thinking was so beautiful on the surface, but there's poison underneath.  and the same was true of her.  being beautiful only got you so far in life.

i am educated in the art of healing, she says.  but that does not make her a healer.  let me show you.  she plucks dry seaweed from the sand and rests close to him.  she's worked on many attractive men, and the youthful, girlish part of her wants to see if she can goad him into looking at her
(poison)
but she knows better than to taunt a man who has been through so much.  he has nothing left to lose.
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maybe he wanted to be taunted. it was a change from the bland emptiness of his life. he missed the days of aimless flirtation with women, playing with fire without getting burned. maybe he was getting too old for all of that. it was a thought that pained him, and he winced--though not because of anything she was going to do to his nose.

you probably know more than i do, govinda responded, smiling gently. my friend pema taught me about moss, and how to use it. apart from that. . .i am clueless. his eyes glowed like lamplight, watching her. he had a feeling she enjoyed the attention; young as she was, she'd likely bask in the spotlight.
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she tended to him carefully, her concentration solely upon the man and his wound.  facial lacerations always bled a lot whether they were serious or not.  she staunched his bleeding and applied a paste with the seaweed, then allowed a strip to dry there.  it would be uncomfortable, but as long as he didn't mess with it, it would hold.  you might not be a skilled healer, govinda, she says gently, with more care than the aimless flirtation she'd supplied before, but you are skilled.
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he sat quietly as she worked, his breathing slow and soft. when she had finished, the sea-girl gave him a remark that made him want to laugh. it also made him want to mount her. he settled for somewhere in the middle, looking at her with more fire in his gaze than a casual encounter would merit but still grinning.

some say so, govinda murmured, staring into the depths of her eyes. he saw the clouds reflected in them, harbingers of rain. thank you for the help. he didn't know whether he looked stupid or noble with his face bandage; he very much hoped for the latter.