"Mila Wineberry. He is ready for you."
Mila pushed away from the shade of the huge old tree and walked swiftly to the councilor's wife, who stood patiently in the doorway.
Smoothing down her hair, she paused beside the smiling woman. There was no time for last minute anxieties. The councilor's wife motioned her inside. "Your shadow must remain outside."
Mila stared. "I'm sorry?"
"Your shadow. He is not permitted in with you." Then she shrugged, her smile rueful. "It is a silly rule and should be cast aside. But for now..."
Mila looked down at her companion. "Stay here, Cho."
He inclined his head, his dark eyes, as usual, carefully blank. But she knew him. He would worry until once again at her side.
The councilor's house was shaped like a craggy, sharp mountain, layered with cubbyholes and corners and mysteries that, even in her nervous state, she felt the urge to investigate.
Two fat male shadows lay intertwined in a corner, massaging each other's genitals with slow, lazy movements. Ripe, red lips and bright skin showed they'd just fed, and a twin pair of dark, heavily lidded eyes flashed her way as she walked past. She could not guess their ages but, despite their youthful looks, knew they were very, very old. The councilor and his wife were old, and the shadows would have existed long before their humans.
Pausing at the rounded door to the council's meeting rooms, she shrugged off her shift, letting it fall into the wife's waiting hands.
"Are you to come in with me?" Mila swallowed the tremor in her voice, but was sure the wife heard it.
"No, sweet. Go on, it will be fine. You'll be accepted."
Pushing open the door, she stepped inside. Her bare skin pebbled at the coolness of the air. She resisted covering her heavy, bare breasts with her arms to warm them and padded to the short, round pedestal in the middle of the room.
The twelve members of the council murmured in approval, nodding and smiling as they sat on their benches, sharp gazes raking her body.
The councilor stood, folding his arms in his dull-colored robes as he paced before her. "Big breasts, Mila. Big breasts to suckle a child. Good." He nodded his silver head, pinching his chin. "Good."
It was one thing she had over Vera. Vera had small breasts and slim hips. Surely the councilor would see that Mila was the better choice to bear a child. He must choose her. She wanted a child more than anything. If she were one of the lucky women who conceived, the gods would be so pleased. Her people would be ecstatic at having another babe in the clan, perhaps a few short months from now. If she were very, very blessed.
But Vera had one special thing Mila didn't. She had been born with some eerie powers of persuasion. Surely being possessed of such, she could sway the councilor's mind.
"Sit, Mila. I will speak with the others." The councilor and his chosen panel murmured amongst themselves while Mila forced herself to remain still and to look patient. She saw the councilor nod, then he stood and walked back toward her.
Once more he nodded. "Well done, Mila. You have been chosen." He turned to the men and women in the room. "Are we in agreement?"
As if they would disagree with him. But Mila didn't care. Her heart soared. She was going to have a baby. Vera would be furious. Persuader or no, she had lost. Perhaps the councilor understood that Vera was different. She was not the type of woman to long for motherhood. Vera longed for what becoming pregnant could do for her, but not for the joy of holding a babe in her arms. Not for bringing more Myaians into the world.
"Shall I tell the people?" she asked him. "Shall I tell Vera?"
At Vera's name, he looked away from her, his eyes full of guilty secrets she couldn't decipher. "You may, Mila Wineberry."
Mila walked sedately from the room, but once the meeting room door closed behind her, she snatched her shift from the wife and danced in glee, refraining from pulling the old woman into a hug.
"I knew you'd be the one," the wife said, smiling. "Now out with you. The women will be waiting to hear."
She held out her arms to Cho as soon as she stepped outside, and they tumbled to the ground in a tangle of arms and legs and laughter. "I did it, Cho," she breathed. "I did it."
He lay on top of her, picking leaves from her hair. "Why should you not? You are more beautiful than the moon. The council would not deny you." He let his hand fall to her breast, circling a nipple with gentle fingers until it stiffened beneath his touch.
She took a deep breath. "I am so happy."
"Then so am I."
They smiled at each other. Unable to remain still a moment longer, she grunted at his weight and pushed him off her. He climbed to his feet and offered her a hand up.
She stared down at him for a long moment, smiling. "You are beautiful as well, Cho."
His body was perfectly formed, but he was inches shorter than the humans, as were all the shadows. He was taller than some of his people, shorter than a few.
His face was carved and strong, eyes a blazing black above high cheekbones and full lips. Straight, soft hair hung down his back in dark chestnut strands of silk.
He rippled with muscle, and though he didn't show much emotion, she knew he took enormous pride in his appearance.
"Get dressed, Mila. The whole village waits to hear."
"Especially Vera," she replied, pulling her shift over her head. She didn't miss the way Cho's gaze lingered on her bare body before the thin fabric hid it from his view. She grinned down at him.
He shook his head, long, silky hair brushing his shoulders. "She will hate you."
"She always did. Now come on. I can't wait to tell them."
"You can't wait to see her face."
They both laughed and headed for the village square.
"I don't believe you," were the first words out of Vera's mouth, upon hearing Mila's good news. "You're lying just to make me angry." Her eyes narrowed to slits, pink lips thinning over small, white teeth. "The Councilor would not ... he hasn't even called to me yet."
"He didn't need to," Mila said. "It's not like he hasn't seen you before."
"Not as you," Vera said, practically spitting the words. "Not naked before him with your huge breasts and bare cunt. He has only seen me clothed!"
The villagers watched quietly, eyes flashing from one girl to the other. "Take off your dress, Vera," one of them called. "Let us be the judge!" Much laughter followed this statement.
Mila smiled and shrugged. "I know he's seen you naked, Vera. But it doesn't matter. I have been chosen. Maybe next time will be your time."
"Next time is two years from now, cunt!" Then the passionate anger left her and she slumped, her red hair like fire against the white of her shift. Her shadow slid against her, but she pushed him away. "Leave me."
He gathered handfuls of her gown. "Mistress..." His voice hissed from his throat as he groveled against his chosen human.
She leaned down to slap his pale face, and Mila stiffened. Cho tightened his arms around her waist, restoring her calm. He had that effect on her.
It would do no good to interfere with Vera's treatment of her shadow. They'd gone down that road before.
Mila couldn't help but feel a pang of pity when Vera walked away, her shoulders slumped. Her shadow trotted along behind her, a smile in his eyes when he glanced back at Mila.
She shook her head and sighed. That was one strange little shadow. She looked down at Cho and ran her fingers through his silky hair. He glanced up at her, then looked away, his face drawn.
He ignored her, and she wondered how it must be for him. So controlled, so dignified, yet so deliberately subjugated. Her ... minion.
He needed to feed, but would wait until she gave him permission to go hunting. Still, after all this time, the shadow's need to drink blood disgusted her. Once a year, she had no choice but to let him feed from her. It was either that or watch him die a terrible death. Blood from animals would only sustain him for a while. Once a year, it was the humans' turn to give to the shadows. In return, a shadow was whatever his particular human needed him, or her, to be.
"Do you have need of me?"
He followed her through the throng of well-wishers, and she knew his eyes would be carefully watchful. He fancied himself more her bodyguard than anything else. As if she needed one. At times his tendency to be overly protective annoyed her, but she knew it was because he loved her.
Hunting with the group was the only danger she faced, really, and she had been taught from an early age to ride, to drive a spear deep into the eye of a boar. But it pleased Cho to guard her, so she said nothing.
Sometimes when she caught a glimpse of him when he thought he was alone, his stark eyes and cold face made her shiver as she felt the icy wind of portent caressing her skin. Cho seemed possessed of deep, dark mysteries he refused to share with her.
She left him his secrets. Because of the way he'd made her feel when talking about his past, she simply knew better than to ask.
Nearing the edge of the crowd, accepting hearty slaps on the back and happy congratulations, she paused when Creasy stepped from the crowd. His green eyes were full of helpless anger. At once, Cho stepped in front of her.
Creasy glared at Cho, and Mila felt amazement that the much larger man could harbor a small, secret fear of her shadow. He'd never told her, but she knew.
So did Cho. He stood, the top of his head barely reaching her ribs, quietly waiting. He would tolerate no threat to her. From anybody.
"Step aside, parasite. I will have a word with your mistress."
Cho said nothing. His stillness was complete, so much so that Mila could not feel his presence. If she closed her eyes, he would not be there.
"Creasy," she said. "What's wrong?" As if she couldn't imagine what set off the fury in his eyes.
He lifted his gaze to her. "What's wrong? You really want to ask me that?"
She swallowed, but refused to look away. "It is what I've longed for since I was old enough to know. I will have my child."
"You will have an Ednian between your thighs. You would allow yourself to be tainted by filth to birth a babe." He clenched his fists, but made no further move toward her.
"Yes. Yes, I would."
Perhaps seeing her own anger arising, he inhaled deeply and lowered his voice. "Mila, Mila. I can't bear to see you touched by one of them."
"Would you feel better if I were touched by one of ours?" She lifted her chin, clenching her own fists. His jealousy was such that he'd actually gone to the council to ask them to make her stay pure until he took the vows with her. They, of course, had laughed him from the room.
His gaze shot to her shadow. "Better than that bloodsucking fuck," he muttered.
"What did you say?"
He would not back down. "Better than Cho, Mila. Better than that little ... parasitic demon you allow to paw you as--"
"He is my shadow, Creasy." Furious, she pushed past him. "Each time I visit you, I find you with your cock in your shadow's mouth, and you won't find me treating her as badly as you treat Cho. Go away. You make me want to hurt you."
"Mila, I want to be the man to give you a child. Is it my fault the curse makes that impossible?"
"No, it's not your fault." She glared at him, her nails digging into her palms. "It's not Cho's fault either. He didn't deliver the curse."
Creasy sneered. "No, but you will fuck an Ednian. The man whose people did curse us."
"The gods let it happen." She smoothed her shift, then took Cho's hand. "Be angry at them--if you dare." The Myaian men had lost their ability to father children when an Ednian witch had flown into a grief-filled rage at the loss of her own son because of a Myaian man. Thus all Myaians were forced to pay until the curse was broken. Only none of them knew how to break it. That information, if it had ever been shared, had been lost long, long ago.
She felt his stare boring into her back long after she'd left the crowd. "Why does he hate you so, Cho?"
Cho followed her into her little one room cottage. "You know why, Mila."
"He's jealous?" She shook her head, throwing herself on her stuffed mat. "Of you?"
A quick flash of something dark streaked through his eyes before he blanked them, going back to the carefully bland expression she was accustomed to. She frowned, but he turned his back and busied himself poking at the fire.
"Yes. Of me."
She frowned. "Cho. Are you angry at me?"
"Why should I be angry? Would you like tea?"
"I'll make you a cup. Is that all?"
She put her hands behind her head and stared at the ceiling. "No."
It had been a long, tiring couple of days. Worrying over the choices the council would make had filled her with anxiety. But now, now she could relax.
"It's a good day, Cho."
"I'm happy for you."
She shivered as the reality began to sink in. She was going to have her First Night. She was going to get a baby. Finally.
"When will he arrive?"
She knew who he meant. "Within the next two weeks."
"There will be a colossal celebration if a child is created."
"I feel as if I'm going to jump out of my skin. I'm so excited. Nervous, grateful..."
"Have you thought about First Night?"
She sat up, taking the tea from him. "I don't want to think about it. About him. Ugh." In truth, she thought of little else.
"The Ednians are necessary to the Myaians' survival. You shouldn't hate them."
"I don't hate them, not really. I am just disgusted by them."
"You're disgusted by a lot of things." This time he did not look away, but crossed his arms and leaned against the table, watching her.
She hid her gaze in the depths of her cup and pretended not to hear him. "Soon it will be time for you to feed," she said, instead.
"But not yet."
She put her cup down. Tilting her head, she studied him. He'd been with her since she was ten years old. He'd come to her on Passage Day, the day when Myaians left the first journey of childhood and began the second route that would carry them to adulthood.
The other shadows gravitated toward him, not only because of his masculine beauty, but because he was a leader. Once she'd spied on him as he lay entangled in the arms of a beautiful unclaimed female shadow and hadn't spoken to him for weeks. She couldn't have said why, and he never prompted her as to her strange silent treatment.
Some of the shadows had no human, and thus were unclaimed. These shadows were the saddest of all creatures, and generally had to beg for sips of blood from a drunken Myaian when the shadows had their yearly blood feast.
Still, they were uncared for. Only the strongest ones won in the huge battles for an individual human. Cho had been the fiercest shadow in the Passage Day battle to win her. She'd been unable to watch them fight and had hidden her face and covered her ears until Cho had crept into her room and patted her hand, promising to care for her for the rest of her life.
He was hers, yes, but she had no right to keep him from fucking other shadows. He would not dare touch another of her people, but lying with his people was perfectly acceptable. She would have been shamed and humiliated if her people had the slightest inkling she tried to keep Cho from his own kind. Unless, of course, she meant to punish him and he allowed her to do so.
But it wasn't that. She pushed thoughts of her idiocy from her mind. Now was the time to be happy. She was soon going to be made pregnant by ... she shook her head, hating that the rest of that thought marred her happiness. Pregnant by the same monsters who'd cursed them in the first place.
"It doesn't matter." She forced the bad thoughts away. She was going to be made pregnant. Her.
"Why are you smiling?"
"Because I'm going to be pregnant. I'm going to have a child. Do you know what that means?"
She would hold a special place in the clan from the day she carried the babe in her belly, but that wasn't the thing that made her nearly burst with delight. If the Ednian made her pregnant, the gods would be pleased. Maybe then the curse would be lifted. Maybe this was the time.
She wanted that more than anything. For life to return to the way it was in the old days, long before her birth, when the men could love the women and give them children. When the Myaians didn't have to depend on the Ednians to grace them with one of their men every couple of years, in the hopes that they might impregnate one of their women. It didn't always happen. It would for her, though. She knew it would. She could feel it.
If she could just close her eyes and pretend it was Creasy on top of her instead of the horrible Ednian. Creasy was a good lover, and he was one of her people. Though she wouldn't admit it to him, she agreed with his assessment of the Ednians. She'd almost rather lie with a tree stump than an Ednian. She closed her eyes. "Cho."
Cho took the cup from her hand, gently, and she kept her eyes closed as he pushed her shift over her thighs. His lips followed his fingers, soft, silky lips that barely touched her skin.
Goose pimples covered her skin, her nipples hardened, and she sighed as her body relaxed. This was what she needed.
"Thank you, Cho."
He lay between her open legs, then pushed her dress over her belly. Teasing her, he blew on her pussy, a gentle stream of warm, moist air.
She squealed and opened her eyes, her breath coming in quick bursts as she watched him.
He met her gaze. "Close your eyes, my sweet. Shut out the world and let me ease your spirit."
"I want to watch you."
With tender fingers, he spread her lips, darting his tongue at the nub of flesh hiding between them. He thrust his tongue inside her, twirling it around in circles before once again laving her clit with slow, soft movements.
She squirmed beneath his knowing ministrations. The pressure grew, a wet, heavy weight that brought with it a throbbing, intense need. She jerked her shift over her head, throwing it to the floor. This was not the time for clothes.
He pulled his mouth from her and ran his gaze down her body, his eyes deep with need. "Do you know how I suffer, Mila? How I wish more than anything to climb on top of you and sink inside your sweet, hot pussy? Can you know?"
She groaned. "Cho!"
"I'm sorry, my sweet, but sometimes I just need to tell you."
"It's not like you don't lie with your own, Cho. I've seen you."
He shrugged. "They are not you."
"Cho. Please ... I can't." It was awful of her, and she knew it. She could let him touch her, bring her to orgasm, use his tongue on her, but she could never fuck him. The thought of his cock, engorged with some forest creature's blood ... She shivered and stared at him. "I'm so sorry, Cho."
His quick grin said all was well, and he lowered his mouth to her pussy once more. He seemed determined to make sure she suffered some of what he suffered, though. Finally taking his mouth from her, he stroked her with gentle fingers, laughing when she squirmed.
"You're supposed to be relaxing me, Cho, not driving me mad!"
He massaged her clit, smiling. "Don't you like this, Mila?"
"Yes, I like this. So much..."
He probed at her hole, pushing the tip of his finger inside her when she moaned. He added another finger and pushed them inside her, then pulled them out, the slow carefulness making her want to kick him out of the way and finish herself.
He snorted with laughter. "I'm sorry for teasing you." He thrust his fingers inside her, hard and fast, pinching her clit between the finger and thumb of his other hand.
Her climax was hard and overpowering, and she cried out, thrusting her pelvis against his fingers.
As she came down, he slid his fingers to her asshole, rubbing the little hole while he waited for her sensitive clit to be ready for his attentions again.
"Again," she pleaded, "with your mouth."
He attached his mouth to her pussy, sucking her clit, licking her hole, his fingers holding her open as she screamed, orgasm after orgasm washing over her.
When she was finished she wanted nothing more than to close her eyes and sleep. She tightened her fingers in his hair to hold him to her.
He lay between her legs as she began to drift into sleep, his soft breath soothing and sweet upon her sex.
She smiled, content.
Oh First Night, come soon with your dreadful wonder.