|The Delta Prologue: Courtyard
Author: Guede Mazaka
Dark nights in New Moon-Nouvelle Lune to those whose families have been around long enough-that's when the swamp gas rises and the lights dance.
There's all kinds of stories 'bout those pretty wandering sparks: follow them to graves in unholy ground, buried treasure, spirit haunts. Best not to trust them, even when the moon lady's raised her face high in the black velvet. And when she's gone away, too busy powdering her face to spare a glimpse at the slow-murmuring river below, make doubly sure that the door latch is on and the shutters tight against the house.
Because that's when the gates swing open from no man's touch, when the candles don't waver in the strong cold breezes. When the foxfire sways across the bayous. When the calls go out, and the screams come back.
Don't listen to them. And for God's sake, don't answer them.
James' mouth was as dry and rasping as starched cotton, and his entire body felt like an overripe fruit, completely pulped beneath its deceptively intact skin. He groaned and pushed himself up on his elbows, then had to lie back down.
It was a sweltering night, and the sweat trickling over him didn't help matters at all. Liquid salt stinging little cuts and drying to white flaking residue over fresh bruises. Fouling up his outside to match his inside. He rubbed at his eyelids, flecking off the crusts that had gathered there, and that was when he noticed his wrists were still bound.
Or rather, rebound: someone had taken the time to wrap soft rags beneath the leather so his skin wouldn't chafe. They'd taken his clothing as well-he fought down a blush and awkwardly wound one of the bedsheets around his waist. Then he tried to get off the bed, but that attempt only proved that his legs were as useless as the rest of him. His knees hit first, then his hands, and the knocking of them against wood planks seemed to go on and on.
Vibrations, tracing after the sweat trails. "Drums…"
Shadows swept across the floor, flinging black veils over his fingers. As he listened and gathered his wits, the thrumming slowly developed into a definite rhythm. Something like a heartbeat after a long, long run, only wilder. It seemed to crawl along his arms and scratch down his back in time with the shift and tumble of shade and yellow light. "Torches. They're having a bonfire?"
He dragged himself over the floor, wincing at sore muscles and blinking away the shimmering halo of fatigue. Halfway there, he had to stop in order to retrieve the sheet-and that was when the yell came.
Not yell. Not anything remotely describable with words. Suffice to say, it made him shiver so violently he dropped his covering, then hurriedly stumble to the window, still scrabbling at the sheet.
He was in one of the large mansions on the edge of town, it seemed, and in its vast inner courtyard, some kind of ceremony that he thought might be voodoo was underway. Between his lack of knowledge and his strained vision, he could make out little except furious whirling explosions of color. Hands of all colors swooping through the air like a flock of birds. The yellow-red of fire and the scarlet of open mouths.
Some signal shot through the mass of people, causing them to all draw back in the same instant. James blinked, and the crowd was now a cleared circular space. Brown dirt, packed by stomping feet, he thought.
A single lone figure spun out, then bowed and sprang into the air in a single motion. A girl, whose long golden hair was swiftly ripped free of its tight bun. It flew about her, a hollow sun encompassing her very familiar face. He forced his eyes to focus until he was certain. Elizabeth Turner, née Swan. The Gold Pearl, Sparrow's top lieutenant in New Moon's corporate trading houses.
And the mocha-skinned woman dancing out from the other side, twirling in ever-tighter orbit around Elizabeth-that was Anamaria. The Lady, La Dame, and the darker edges of the city all paid her court.
James' hair was falling into his face, sticking to his skin. He accidentally sucked in a few strands when he inhaled; they tasted of unwashed oils and smeared dirt, and he promptly spit them back out. When he tried to push them away, the sheet unraveled from his waist and began to slip off.
A hand came around to grab it before he could, and lean heat suddenly shocked up against his back, tearing the air out of him. He clutched at the windowsill so his unlocking knees wouldn't bring him to the ground, but that only let the other man settle his arms more firmly about James.
"William's up next," murmured Sparrow's voice into his ear. The fabric of the other man's suit scraped over James as harshly as sandpaper when he struggled against Sparrow's hold. Futilely. He didn't have the strength-not after God knew how many days of this…torture. Captivity.
"Now, I'd not be that unkind 'bout it." A tanned hand stroked confidently down James' chest, nails catching on his nipples. He made the error of hissing at that, which Sparrow duly noted and took advantage of. Those fingers drifted back up to pluck till he couldn't help but squirm. God damn…they were training him to this-
--"Stop…God, stop…" James swallowed the rising scream and dug his nails into the sill. He stared determinedly out the panes, fogged with his panting, and watched as his sight stretched and distorted with every movement of-"Sparrow-damn you, stop…"
Slight tinkling as the head behind his shook, but no brush of braids. Sparrow must have tied his hair back-and James should not be able to know that.
In the courtyard, the two women had spun into each other and were now clasped breast to breast as their feet kicked up little puffs of dust. James thought he could see the whites of their eyes and the shine of their smiles, reflecting torchlight.
Humming. From bone up to mind, and it was growing louder and louder.
"Y'could call m'by m'given name, at least. After all th'trouble y'went through." Curious tongue, licking along his cheek like a wolf greeting its leader. Irony. Untruth. "Gettin' y'self so deep into m'little band of merry friends-"
James had to laugh then, even though it hurt his throat. "Jack, you own the Underworld from here to Florida."
Soft nip, just on his jaw, and he had to remind himself not to push back into it. Drums-damn drums. They were creeping under his skin, just like the fingers easing down the sheet. So carefully stripping him into pieces. "There, was that hard-James?"
"Don't call-" another pair of hands skated over his arms, then started to count each rib on one side by curving a nail along it. Jacques' reflection in the window glass was a sprite with a blackguard's heart glittering from his eyes. Then it disappeared as the newcomer sank down. Running fingertips along the top of James' hip. James closed his eyes, then opened them to the high crash of some brass instrument. "Jack," he grated, ignoring the close-press after that name squeezed out into the open. "Fine. I was a spy. I did try to infiltrate your organization. But you caught me, and why are you still keeping me?"
"I could like you," Jack suggested.
Elizabeth and Anamaria abruptly leaped apart, still swaying like ivy in a light breeze. Silence snapped down on the courtyard as Will Turner's well-dressed form sauntered into the circle. Cane tip and head winking in the light, black joining length whirling in time to the vanished beat. He did a slow turn that pulled off his jacket and flung it toward Elizabeth, and then another in the opposite direction that sent his hat to Anamaria. They sidled around and about him, sinuous and feline.
"No?" Amusement strung every one of Jack's words, like a Mardi Gras necklace. "Then how 'bout this: y'swore an oath on Nouvelle Lune's bones when y'joined me. An' y'broke it. There's a price for that."
Jacques nuzzled his way between James' legs, forcing them open. The sheet completely fell away. "Death?" James gasped.
"Ah, no. As traitors go, I've seen worse." Teeth nipping with every breath. Hands roaming his body, reclaiming it over and over. Jack lingered on each sore spot he found, and even longer on the ones James vaguely recalled Jack making himself. The man's right hand abruptly clapped to the left side of James' waist as Jacques took James into a skilled mouth, and then Jack was yanking James' head back by the hair, twisting it around so he could drink the moan straight from James' mouth.
Will's voice called out something in a language James almost recognized, and a resonating howl went up in response. He called again, and tree branches rattled with ravens' screeches.
Jack's fingers slowly slipped from James' hair to trace down his spine. It felt like James had been turned into a wire, with Jacques tugging on one end and Jack on the other. "Pity, really," Jack went on. "The delta was beginnin' t'like you. An' y'were beginnin' t'get quite fond of it."
The glass was painfully cool against James' brow. He let his elbows buckle as his hips rocked back into Jack's welcoming hand, forward into Jacques' teasing tongue. "Jack, please…"
"Yes?" Fingers circling just around the rim, not quite inside. They already knew the way-what were they waiting for?
Down below, Will cried out for a third time, jerking James' head up. Turner was stripped to his trousers, and his cane drew furious silver scripts in the air. The symbols almost hung in place, flashes lasting much longer than they should have. James licked his peeling lips and tasted blood. His head was full of mysteries and his bones were echoing the beat, reverberating along with the in-and-out of Jack's breath on his neck.
Like falcons returning to their master, Elizabeth and Anamaria whipped into the center to join Will, and then the three of them were suddenly engulfed in the rush of dancers.
And something whose creation James had never even suspected shot to the surface, snapping into place.
He slumped against the window, squeezing his eyes as tightly shut as he could. "Jack. Fuck me."
"Not quite there-"
"Take me, damn you. You and the damned city…" James' voice arced high into soundlessness as Jack pushed in, split him the rest of the way like lightning and old oak. But Jacques was right there, picking up each piece, and Jack fitting them back together however he pleased while James tumbled into the chanting, howling dark.