Hello Ello, and specifically @ellowrites, how lovely to see you all again. I'm pleased to post for the first time in a few months, a new excerpt from my work-in progress Vintage, which you can catch up on here. If you are new to it, it's about a man who hunts witches for a living and has his life upended when he meets one particularly enchanting sorceress. Have at it:
“You’re still here.”
It was Nightingale’s voice, and the ice infusing the air in the room informed the sudden arrival of the witch, but Etienne did not confirm her presence with his eyes. Instead he cast his head downward, and slid his awareness to his trembling arms, taming them forcibly with hitherto untapped strength derived from a momentary flush of anger. Absent the influence of her spell on him, remnants of Bureau training kept him from being drawn in once more; those remnants, however, warred with potent memories of very real feelings. Steel, it seemed, could often be cleaved in two merely by the right wisp of perfume, and his had already been worn so thin. “Where else could I go?” he said quietly.
“Anywhere,” Nightingale said. “You could leave this behind. You could make a new life somewhere across the seas, in a place where no one has ever heard of the Bureau Centrale.”
A wry grin arched Etienne’s lip, even as his chin sank further. “What would I take with me? Memory can’t be purged with a wave of the hand, and the Bureau’s tentacles span the world. It doesn’t matter if it’s called something different in another language, under another government. It’s still there.” He placed a hand over his chest. “It’s still here. You can’t run far enough to outrun yourself. You’ll just keep running, without rest, until time finally catches you.”
“But how much time might you gain?”
He thought of his father, at the last, straining with futility at the iron grip of death. “Not enough. Never enough to outlive guilt.”
“Guilt is a choice.”
“Not when it is the only thing we have left.”
“Etienne,” said Nightingale. “Look at me.”
He remembered how she had haunted him once, how he had summoned an ideal of her with his imagination and crafted his own version of her perfectly worded whispers to fall into his ear at every opportune moment. He was not sure he trusted that same imagination not to betray him now, when he needed his resolve more than ever. “You’re not really here, are you,” he said to the air.
“Please look at me,” she said.
The woman standing in the corner appeared very different than the Nightingale he remembered, his eyes perceiving her truly for the first time, freed of the old obsession. She wore a simple, featureless black dress which pinched at her slender waist and narrowed as it rose to a high collar, leaving shoulders and arms bare with their unblemished skin. Her long hair tumbled to her right side, curling below her collarbone. Her lips remained the same dark shade of amaranthine that had blown him that maddening, life-altering kiss. It was not that she was any less beautiful, but she seemed shyer, younger, retiring even; someone to fade forgotten into the background once glimpsed across a crowded room. Far removed from the avatar of impossible power and confidence that had seared itself into his memory. There was a human there now, bursting beneath the hitherto uncrackable veneer of the goddess. Perhaps it had been there all along, and for whatever reason - ignorance, even need perhaps - he had chosen not to see it.