Chapter One-Don\'t Touch Me

Scars woke from the best sleep she had in cog turns. It was as if her blood had been charged with mana as she slumbered. She felt like she could climb to Chandelier, which leaned in her favor because she would be climbing half the way. She did not bother to check if Vyncynt had awoken, he was a man grown and if late, she would leave without him. As she walked past his door she had a distinct feeling he was not there.

The Courier Express was not busy during the six oclock hour. The slow spinning gears and cogs drowned out the low sleepy murmurs of the exhausted couriers.

The commons had two couriers asleep on the long leather sofas it was also a very common sight.

She felt the angelic embraces of the furniture on more than one occasion; when she worked the late hours and could not muster the strength to drag her feet to her room. Their dull brown leather was polished to a high shine by many weary backsides. Most couriers were respectful and would keep their voices low and even drop blankets atop their sleeping comrades.

Except for ZenZen, no one dared to place a cover over her. Most of the time she would wake halfway through the late hours freezing down to her very toes.

The moment she stepped up to her locker, a delicate shadow fell over her. A face containing fiery eyes and hair obscured her view.

”Scars! I heard you got a new partner. ”

Startled, she dropped her leather jacket and glanced towards the voice.

”ZenZen! ” she exclaimed, ”When did you get back? ” leaving the jacket in a rumbled heap by her feet.

”About an hour ago, I am exhausted. ”

”I bet. You have been gone for half a year. ”

ZenZen was a half-blooded autumn dryad and Scars only female friend. Scars had always been awed by the dryads beauty, the way her hair and eyes contained every hue of orange, red and yellow. The way the colors flowed into each other and her leaves would rustle when she walked. She loved the delicate wooden pattern of her skin and would often lose herself to the zig-zag design.

Unlike other Dryads who dressed in foliage, ZenZen preferred less revealing attire; she wore tight, black, leather pants with a matching vest. Like Scars and many of the other couriers, she had donned a leather jacket but hers was lovely forest green. Across ZenZens back was slung a crossbow and at her side sat a retractable mana shotgun.

If she had to be a half-blood, why could it not have been a Dryad? Shy and gentle; no one was afraid of a Dryad, instead they respected them. Dryads were essential in keeping the Orchard Bio-domes fertile and functioning.

During the fertile year, ZenZen was commissioned by the mother Dryads from the Orchard Bio-domes to help with the crops. Due to her affinity with plant life, she was the best for the job. Thus, they did not get to see each other often.

ZenZen never shied away from her, nor did she make symbols with her hands to ward off curses whenever she walked too close. Instead, she threw open her arms and eagerly embraced her. ZenZens gentle warmth enveloped her, she had forgotten the feel of a friend who loved and appreciated her.

ZenZen grabbed her face and said, ”Let me look at you. Ah, still as beautiful as ever. So tell me about your new partner. Rumor has it that he touched your hair without collapsing. ”

”He did. I think I almost died. ”

”Oh really, was he that good? ”

”Good? What are you talking about? I was so scared. ”

”You are too innocent sometimes. Why were you scared? ”

”His presence frightens me. He is the tallest man I have ever laid eyes on. I come up to his elbow when I stand next to him. ”

”I think thats an exaggeration. ”

”Its pretty damn close. ”

”But you let him touch your hair. ”

”I didn let him, he just did it. My hair got stuck on his boot he just squatted down and untangled it. ”

Scars did not want to tell ZenZen just yet, the way he had touched her braid. He didn just simply undo the entanglement, he kneeled there stroking the plait much longer than appropriate. How could she admit that she could feel each finger as if he were stroking her spine or the way her hand reached out to grasp his and place it on his cheek? How could she confess that she let loose her glowing tears upon the hand of an unknown man? She couldn , she was not ready to face her embarrassing actions.

”Isn that a good thing? Rumors say that he is like the twins. Meranda said he told her that he has no interest in women. ”

”Even so, the twins told me that even men who like men think of it sometimes. They have stopped touching me. They won even place a package directly into my hands anymore. ”

”Thats a shame. Well then, your partner can take the twins place. ”

”Never. My body can move when hes around me; I get all sweaty, my heart starts trying to escape from my mouth. I feel like if I move, he won see me and crush me underfoot. I feel like a cat caught in a room full of spinning gears. My tail is going to get crushed. ”

”Ah, I felt that way once, back when I thought I was in love with a Medusa. ”ZenZen sighed and pressed her palms over her heart, ”I was such a silly young sapling. ”

”I think this is more fear than love. You know I am unable to love any man. ”

”Those emotions are closer than you think. You never know, you may yet find a man you can love and touch without the fear of killing him. ”

”I don think so. ”

A cough steps into their chatter like an unwelcome Aunt, followed by the un-oiled scream of a closing locker. Vyncynt silently strode from the depths, Scars body froze eyes turning to tea plates.

Today he was wearing dark jeans and a white dress shirt, with some sort of black transparent knit over-shirt and a black vest. There was an old-fashioned air about him but the attire matched well with hue of his hair. The glint in his eyes and the set of his mouth spoke volumes of anger and pain. He said nothing but walked past, shrugging into a long leather jacket.

”That was him wasn it? He heard you, looks like you made him angry. ”

”I didn mean to. If only he stayed until I was finished. ”

”Oh, you wanted to say something else? ”

”Well, the thing is, when he speaks I feel comforted and warm; like the way you feel after a great meal and fine wine. The moment he speaks the fear is gone. ”

”So you
e not scared of him if he keeps speaking to you? ”

”Youll understand as soon as you hear his voice it is so deep, full and sleepy. Like a warm blanket being wrapped around your shoulders. ”

”Well we have a temporary solution to your problem. ”

”What? ”

”Just keep him talking. ”

”I don think I can do that. ”

”Why not? ”

”He doesn seem like much of a talker and I am not the best person for conversation starters. ”

”Im sure you will think of something, ” ZenZen gave Scars another hug, ”Hang in there sweet Beyond. So where are you headed so early? ”

”We have to go to Chandelier. I was supposed to go yesterday but the core lift was in the middle of repairs and I had already been on a five-hour run, so going the long way was not an option. Since I am going in that direction I am going to visit your sisters. Even if they are scared of me. ”

”If you asked them to come out, they would. You know that right? ”

”I am not going to force them. ”

”Thats not forcing them Scars its called asking. Forcing is when you threaten to set fire to their tree if they don appear. ”

”Thats horrible! You should feel grateful that you can roam. ”

”Oh, believe me I am. Give my sisters some apples for me. You know the Orchard always send us heaps and I am sure they would love to have more saplings. ”

”You read my mind. ”

”Well, I will leave you to it. ”

”Thanks ZenZen. I will be back later we can talk some more if you are not already asleep. ”

”Id love that. ”

She left ZenZen and made her way towards the kitchens to snag some fresh golden apples and turkey sandwiches. The kitchens never had anything fancy or hot but they provided light meals none the less.

While she was organizing her items into her shoulder pack the words ”Did you sleep well? ” were spoken softly from the side.

She recognized the voice but jumped and squeeled like a rusty cog. Her body froze and heart throbbed fiercely attempting to burst through her sternum. Her lungs forgot their everyday function and she spent several moments relearning how to breathe.

He approached her slowly as to not frighten her even more, placed his hands before him to show that he was harmless, ”Is there anything that I do that does not frighten you? ” he asked, voice dripping with sorrow. How could someone sound so heartbroken by the fact a little wisp of a girl was scared of him? With that height, he should have been used to it.

”Its not that, you are just so t-t-tall, ” she managed to stammer.

”My height cannot be helped, ” he replied but then proceeded to kneel and sit back on his heels. The position forced Scars to look down at him instead of up, ”Does this help, if I spoke to you like this, will you be less frightened of me? ”

She looked down at his mien for a moment and realized yes. While she stood over him he was much less imposing or maybe his lullaby voice was lulling her fear.

For the first time, she studied his face.

No wonder the girls were making a commotion. It seemed that she found every aspect of his face attractive. Emerald eyes with lashes and hair like a fine dark wine. His hair was long for a man but he kept it in a tight French braid; the thick, gleaming plait draped over his shoulder and fell right beneath his breastbone with the ends tapering like a paintbrush.

The darkness of his skin reminded her of ebony, deep, rich, and substantial; though it was nowhere near as dark. He was certainly darker than any man she had ever seen and contrasted perfectly with his hair, making his eyes even more brilliant. His mouth was a shape that was both full and masculine, it simply invited her to kiss him. A strange desire filled her, she had to touch him, feel him; she had to know if that dark skin was as smooth as it looked. She could not see a trace of any stubble.

Her hand was about halfway to his cheek before she realized what she was doing. She snatched it back quickly as though it would burst into flame should she dare explore any further.

”You won hurt me, ” he whispered, voice flowing over her like silk and roses. Filling her with a sensation she had not felt in over twenty years, desire.

”Yes, I will. The first and last time I willingly touched a man, he died. Just because you were able to touch me once does not mean you will be able to do it again. Be sure to keep your desires in check or you will get hurt. We need to get going. ” She slowly backed away from him and retrieved her belongings.

”Indeed, my desires do hurt but suppressing yours will hurt me even more so, ” he replied to the empty air where she once stood.

Scars was on the other side of the lockers when he spoke those words and had no idea what he meant.

She filed it away to the back of her mind, it was not important now.

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