Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Fulcrum: 04 Arrogance

~Chapter Four~




Zain raised his sword, slammed it down hard as jagged streaks of crimson light erupted from the fissure created when the blade met the earth.  The streaks shot out, exploded with a deafening crash that bent the distant trees in a crazy dance, as the wind howled, as the cry of nature twisted around the shriek of the boar-youkai moments before the light enveloped him, moments before his body disintegrated in a hazy white flash: in a gust of unnatural wind.


Standing impassive, his expression blanked, he did not blink as the ashes of the boar-youkai swirled in the air, scattered by the blast, and as quickly as the wind had come, it vanished.  Blanking his mind as he slowly pivoted, raising his sword to point at the remaining youkai, Zain watched as disbelief turned to horror on their faces.


“We cannot defeat him,” one of the youkai hissed at the others.  “He’s too strong!”


“Forgive us, my lord!” another one yelped as panic rose in his voice.  “P-Please!”


“Be gone,” Zain said, lowering his sword though he did not drop it into the scabbard on his hip.  “Don’t cause any more trouble.”


“Yes!” the last one said, grabbing his brothers’ arms and trying to drag them back.  “Come on!”


Zain didn’t move as he watched the three make a hasty retreat.  Only after the taint of their auras had diminished did he kneel down, wiped the sword in the grass.  Then he pressed the flat of the blade against his forehead and close his eyes for a moment.


Even in challenge, do not dishonor your opponent . . .”


He sighed.


There have been threats, saying if we refuse to meet with them, they would take out their aggressions on the people in the town in which they live.  Meet with them and find out just what it is they’re after.”


Opening his eyes, Zain continued to watch the edge of the clearing where the remaining brothers had disappeared.  His senses told him that they were long gone.  Still, there was a lingering uneasiness that he couldn’t shake.


We want our father to be pardoned.  He served faithfully under the Third for years,” the oldest brother had said.


Zain stared at him.  “Your father?  The same father responsible for the foundry explosion that killed a hundred people?


That wasn’t his fault,” the youngest brother—the hottest tempered of them—spat out.


Do you honestly think that your father did not realize what was going to happen?  He knew that the melder was faulty, and he insisted that it remain in operation anyway.  Your father was warned ahead of time, what would happen if that melder malfunctioned.  He ignored those warnings, and he alone created what might as well have been a B-class explosive,” Zain countered.  “Your father will be released after his sentence is carried out.  After all, more than half of the victims were human.  As such, he was tried and sentenced according to their laws, not ours.  Be grateful.  If he had been judged by ours, he wouldn’t be sitting in a jail cell.  He would very likely be dead.  This is not something that concerns the tai-youkai, and he will not interfere.”


But the Third would let him go if you asked him to,” the second brother said.


I will say it one last time.  He will not interfere,” Zain stated once more.


Then I challenge you,” the oldest said as he rose to his feet.  He stood a good half a foot taller than Zain and was certainly burlier, as well.  In hindsight, he likely thought that he possessed the upper hand in a fight . . . “I don’t want to be tai-youkai, but at least if I was, I’d be a better one than you or your damned father!


Pushing himself to his feet, Zain finally dropped the sword back into the sheath, welcoming the breeze that materialized, that lifted his bangs and soothed the balmy, humid night.


It didn’t take long to return to the rental car that he’d driven out to the desolate field where the brothers were waiting for him.  He would most assuredly hear about it later since he’d opted to go alone to meet them.  Still, Heller had said that there was a sense of growing dissent in the region already, and, while Zain was reasonably certain that the general in charge would not be stupid enough to rise up against the tai-youkai, he also didn’t care to spend the time in ascertaining whether or not he could trust anyone that the general might see fit to send along with him, either.


To be completely honest, Zain wasn’t actually considering stopping by to visit the current general.  Whatever business he might have was something that he would have to take up with Heller, after all.


Are you sure that’s the only reason?


Ignoring the irritating voice of his youkai-blood as he yanked his sword free and slipped it onto the passenger side seat, Zain gave the seatbelt a vicious yank and secured it into place.


You’re just smarting because the girl refused to give you her name.’


Snorting indelicately since this was neither the time and place for him to be thinking about anything other than the things that had happened since he’d stepped foot off the plane, he blanked his mind as he drove back to the hotel.


“Mr. Jericho,” the woman sitting behind the opulent desk of the Macon Duarte Hotel called out to him as he started to pass.  “You’ve gotten a few messages while you were out.”


Zain nodded and took the slips of paper from the human woman before continuing on his way to the elevator.  One from Jamison and two from Uriah Marner, the general of the southern region who probably wanted to know why Zain hadn’t come to stay with him for the duration of his trip.  Crumpling them in his fist, he stuffed them into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, instead.


“Zain, how are things?” Heller asked, answering the call after precisely three rings.


Zain stepped into the elevator and punched the button for the top floor.  “Chase Morton’s sons want you to intervene on behalf of their father to have him released from prison early.”


“What did you tell them?”


Pulling out his key card, he slipped it into the slot to ensure that this particular elevator ride would not be interrupted by any additional stops along the way.  “I told them the truth.  It is of no concern to the tai-youkai’s office, and he has to serve out his term, just like anyone else.”


“Mmm . . . Were they satisfied with that?”


“Of course not,” Zain replied.  “The oldest son issued me a challenge.”


Heller sighed.  “A challenge,” he repeated thoughtfully.  “And the remaining brothers?”


“They won’t be any trouble,” Zain assured him.


“Stubborn fool.”


Zain grunted in response.  He was inclined to agree.  No matter how much larger the youkai was physically, he should have realized that there was a reason that the Jericho family had held the office of the tai-youkai since its inception on the continent.


“Will you be returning tomorrow?  Or did Uriah invite you to visit since you’re in the area.”


“His business is with you,” Zain said as the bell chimed to announce the opening of the elevator doors.  Crossing the thickly carpeted lobby to the only door on this floor, he barely paused as the doors to the penthouse suite opened moments before he walked into them.


“No, I’m sure that he believes that he does have business with you, too,” Heller remarked.


“With me?  Why would that be?”


Heller chuckled, and in the background, Zain could hear the soft rattle of ice cubes against glass.  “Do you really think that he’s given up on the idea of having his daughter married to the future tai-youkai?”


Zain stopped abruptly but did not give voice to the thoughts that sprang to life in his head at his father’s assessment.  “I’ll be home tomorrow,” he stated flatly, leaning the sword against a chair.  He needed to give it a more thorough cleaning, but that could wait at the moment.


“I see.  Try to get some sleep before you hurry back,” Heller chided.


“Yes, Father.”


“And your mother wishes you a good night, as well.”


“Thank you.”


The line went dead, and Zain let out a deep breath as he tossed the cell phone onto the sofa in passing.  Sleep?  He doubted that.  It wasn’t so easy to forget that he’d just been forced to take a life. In the time since he’d reached adulthood, he’d only had to accept challenges twice counting tonight, and, while he’d been instructed from a young age, and even though he realized the inevitable outcome of such fights, it wasn’t an easy thing.


The first time had been five years ago: the foolish son of a youkai who claimed to be a revolutionary.  Suppress the humans was his goal, and in an effort to gain momentum, he’d goaded his son into issuing the challenge to Zain.  In hindsight, he was sure that the son hadn’t actually wanted to fight, and in truth, had it been up to Zain, he would have let the young man out if it if he had that choice at all.  He hadn’t.  The rules were absolute, after all, but as much as Zain tried to convince himself that he had only done what he had to do, there was still a bitterness about it, even now.


For everyone else, there was always a way out of a fight, or at least, there was a way to end those fights without someone paying with their lives.  Zain didn’t have that luxury.  It was the only part of his duty that he despised.






“So tell me!  How was the performance?”


Kendall smiled as she stepped over to the windows that overlooked the rear of the campus.  “Not even a ‘hello’ or anything first?” she teased.


Mimi giggled and heaved a dramatic sigh.  “Hello, hi, how are you?  Good?  Great!  So, how was the performance?”


Kendall laughed, kicking off her shoes as she wrapped one arm over her stomach and gazed up at the blue sky above.  “He’s very skilled,” she said, choosing her words carefully.


“What?  That’s all you have to say?  Oh, come on, Kendall!  I don’t suppose you were able to record him . . .?”


“Sorry, Mims, but they took everyone’s cell phones at the door.”


Mimi spent a moment or two grumbling under her breath, something about gorilla security and unfair rules that were made to be broken.


“And he left right after the performance, so we didn’t get a chance to ask him a thing.”


Mimi heaved another sigh.  “Well, that just figures . . . Is he still as gorgeous as I remember?”


Kendall paused before answering.  Somehow, she’d known that it would come to this, and yet . . .


Then why don’t you tell me your name and play for me?  It’s been said that there are no strangers in music, you know . . .”


Biting her lip as a very distinct shiver ran up her spine, Kendall couldn’t stop the blush that filtered into her cheeks, either, at just the memory of those words, and those bright brown-orange eyes that wouldn’t go away, even when she closed her eyes . . . “He’s . . . I . . . I didn’t really see him very closely,” she lied.


Mimi sighed, and her disappointment was almost palpable.  “What do you suppose the odds are that we’ll just casually run into him some day?”  Then she laughed, but the sound was a little hollow.  Or was that just Kendall’s imagination . . .? “Oh, what am I saying?  Your father’s a general.  I’m sure you’ll meet him long before I do again.”


There wasn’t much in the way of encouragement that Kendall could offer Mimi on that score.  True enough, Kendall’s father was a general, and Mimi’s father was a biochemist: a very well-respected biochemist, but that was neither here nor there when discussing the idea of casually running into the future tai-youkai . . .


“I remember, he has the most amazing eyes,” Mimi went on, clueless as to the direction of Kendall’s current thoughts.  “It’s like they could look right through you, you know?  Just thinking about him . . .”  She gave a little squeal of happiness followed by another longsuffering sigh.  “What did he play?”


Rubbing her arm as another shiver ran up her spine, Kendall grimaced.  Yes, yes those eyes probably could . . . “Gaspard de la Nuit and Feux Follets.”


“Umm . . . Ravel and Liszt?”




Mimi let out another deep breath.  “I’m so jealous,” she muttered.   “Anyway, I just called to ask you about the performance.  Unfortunately, I’ve got a chamber music practice, so I’ve got to go.  I’ll call you tomorrow.  Are you free for lunch?”


This time, it was Kendall’s turn to sigh.  “Not really.  I’ve got to practice more, but the recital is Friday, so maybe we can catch up this weekend?”


“Okay!  Don’t practice too hard.”


Kendall hung up, but didn’t turn away from the window.


You’re the one who should be performing here today . . . That was . . . beautiful.”


Why couldn’t she get him out of her mind?  Whether it was his words or his presence, she wasn’t sure, but as hard as she tried to remind herself that he was just being nice, especially after she’d heard him play, she couldn’t get his words out of her head.  She couldn’t decide if he was mocking her or if he honestly had meant what he’d said, but it was obvious to her after hearing him perform that he was the one who belonged up there on stage.  That she knew well enough, exactly who he was didn’t matter.  There was a reverence in his playing, as though he understood fully what the composer was trying to get across.  It was an intuitive thing; something that could be learned to some extent, but if the gift wasn’t there to innately understand a piece on all levels, the meaning would be lost in translation.  It was that intangible quality that separated the true artists from those who could only learn to replicate sound.


That was . . . beautiful.”


Pushing open the window, Kendall leaned on the frame, closed her eyes as she drew in a deep breath.


Those eyes . . . they seemed to glow, the starkness magnified against the blackness of his hair . . .


Zain—Just ‘Zain’ will suffice.”


Why had he looked almost irritated in that moment?  Surely she had to have been imagining that, because the next instant, his expression was completely blank once more.


Why didn’t you tell him your name?


Jarred out of her musings by the sound of her youkai-voice, Kendall frowned as she closed the window once more.  ‘I . . . I didn’t have time,” she thought defensively.


You could have.’


Kendall sighed as she wandered over to the piano.  Yes, she supposed she could have.  Professor Rainsley had poked his head into the room to tell the Fourth that it was time.  Still, the future tai-youkai had lingered, staring at her for another long moment before she hurried out of the room to go find her seat in the concert hall.  She didn’t know why she was so reluctant to give him her name.  Or . . .


Just because Mimi met him ten years ago does not mean that she has any real claim on him, you know.’


Maybe that was true.  But then, did it really matter?  She wasn’t free to make any kind of real choices, and he wasn’t, either.  Even if she was, something deep down told her that she really ought to steer clear of that particular man.  Someone like him was just too used to absolute power, wasn’t he?  It stood to reason, considering who he was.  He’d probably never even heard the word ‘no’ before, and besides, there was something about him—about Zain Jericho—that . . . that scared her.






“Jamison, I need to talk to you.”


Jamison glanced up from his desk and pulled the wire-rimmed glasses off his face as Zain strode through the office door without knocking and without pausing.  “Oh, hello, O Great, Exalted One.  Oh, to what do I owe the honor?”


“You can be such an ass sometimes,” Zain pointed out flatly.


Jamison broke into a half-smile as he sat back in his chair.  “Would you prefer, ‘O Captain, My Captain’?”


Striding over to the window, draping his hands on his lean hips, Zain stared down at the milling students, growing more and more agitated as the seconds ticked away.  “Who is she?” he asked without preamble.


He could feel Jamison’s gaze drilling into the back of his head like he was trying to see inside to figure out just what the hell Zain was thinking.  “I’m going to assume that you think I know what ‘she’ we’re speaking of.”  He waited for clarification and sighed when he realized that none was forthcoming.  “Okay, I give up.  What ‘she’ are we talking about?”


Grinding his teeth together, Zain could feel his claws digging into the window sill.  It irritated the hell out of him that he was here, in the first place, having to ask Jamison something he already ought to know, and why?  Because she damn well should have told him when he’d asked.  Twice.  “Yesterday when you came to tell me that it was time.  The girl that was in the room with me.  I want her name.”


“Oh, that one,” Jamison drawled, reaching for the bottle of water on his desk.  “I don’t know.”


“Jamison, I want you to know that I just got off a plane an hour ago.  I haven’t even been home to shower yet.  I’m tired.  I’m dirty.  I had to kill a boar-youkai who was arrogant enough to think that he could beat me.  The only thing—the only thing—that could possibly make me want to relive this day is for you to give me that girl’s name.  Please.”


Jamison laughed at Zain’s uncharacteristic show of irritation.  “That was so not the way to ask for someone’s help, you know,” he pointed out between chuckles.


“I’m warning you—”


Holding up his hands in blatant surrender did nothing to wipe the smirk off of Jamison’s face and only served to make Zain want to lunge across the desk to beat some sense into his demented friend, but when he erupted into a low growl, deep in his throat, Jamison relented.  “Seriously, Zain, I don’t know.  She’s not in any of the classes I teach, and she’s not in my master class, either.”  Eyeing Zain briefly, he slowly shook his head.  “I take it that you want me to find out.”


Zain didn’t look entirely pleased with Jamison’s answer, but he relented.  “Thank you,” he said, managing not to sound very thankful, at all, as he headed for the door.  “I’m going home to shower and change.  Call me when you find out, will you?”


The door closed behind him, and Jamison broke into a wan smile.  In all the years that he’d known him, he couldn’t recall ever seeing Zain so close to being completely rattled.  Hell that, he couldn’t recall having ever seen him even half-rattled, and over a girl, no less?


Smile disappearing as he remembered the girl in question, Jamison tapped his claws on the desk idly.  Long platinum blonde hair and deep blue eyes?  Beautiful face, certainly, yet there was something about her that seemed familiar, even though he’d never actually met her before.  He felt as though he ought to know her or at least something about her.  Still . . .


Jamison sighed and pushed back the chair.  He might not know who she was, but one of the other professors would, and he’d better ask around before Zain did something entirely stupid, like lose his temper completely.


<<<03: Intrigue

05: Obsession >>>



All the characters in The Fulcrum belong to me.
Any similarities to any person, alive or dead, real or implied, are coincidental.



posted by Sueric at 12:12 am  

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