"POTION IN A KISS"
I’d never been here before. It was glorious! I gawked up and around. The vaulted ceiling seemed miles above. Ahead was the throne at the summit of a series of thinning golden steps. Behind it tremendous ornate crimson curtains hung from a high archway. The air was cool and smelled pleasantly strange, almost like fruity incense.
I turned in place, and that’s when I spied the guards. A pair of them were walking towards me from enormous double doors at least a hundred feet away. They wore golden, etched armor and carried menacing spears. Their face-plates were down. Once in range, the one on the left spoke. His voice sounded tinny.
“This way, sir.”
I was confused. “Er ... which way?”
He lifted his spear and pointed towards the throne.
“Yeah. Right. Okay ...”
I got to the stairs and began mounting them. The guards followed. Though bedecked in what was probably seventy pounds of metal, they had no trouble keeping up or climbing the stairs with me, and in fact sounded amazingly quiet. They barely creaked or clanked at all.
I got to the throne. Like almost everything else in here, it was gold. The back of it was probably three times as tall as it needed to be. The seat was red velvet with fancy embroidery. I recognized the seal.
“Wait here,” ordered the left guard. With his comrade, they marched around the throne, back down the stairs, and through the huge curtains. I didn’t see them again.
Well, all right, I thought as I waited, and sat on the throne.
It wasn’t all that comfortable, truth be told. I could think of at least two chairs in my living room back home that were much more so than this ostentatious thing.
I considered what it would be like to hold absolute power, to gaze down at those seeking my blessing for some urgent request of theirs. How would I look upon the petitioners kneeling before me? How would I treat them, given that I had such power?
This place screamed “EGO!” It would be ridiculously easy to see the whole world through its gilded lens. It not only encouraged contempt, it demanded it.
And it was all Zelena’s. Well, and her stuffy sister witches’, too.
“Nathan? Are you here?”
Before I could stand, Zelena came around the throne. I went to get up—
“No, no. Stay right there!”
She stalked around me like a lion around its prey. She looked amazing in a periwinkle gown with small white frills at her wrists and neck. I could smell her perfume, charged with immediacy and hope. The emerald light of the palace highlighted her red hair.
“I do like it!” she remarked. “So often this chair defines the person sitting in it. But I daresay that you define it. Yes, yes ... quite handsome ... and noble. Mmm ...” she purred.
She extended her hand, and I took it. She pulled lightly, and I stood. We came together in a tight hug. “I knew you would come,” she murmured sweetly. “Are you ready?”
I was swimming in her sea and didn’t care if I drowned. “I’m ready for anything, My Lady.”
We parted, and I boldly took her hand and brought it to my lips and kissed it. She watched me, those flirtatious, deadly eyes catching the light and making them glitter.
I went to release it, but she held on. “I’ve got a way to get my pendant back. I really think it’ll work! Let me show you!”
“All right. Sure.”
Holding my hand, she led me down the stairs and behind the curtains.
A door in a large wooden wall at the end of the corridor waited. It had very odd paintings surrounding it, many featuring the Wizard. She waved her hand and it swung open.
“This way,” she said, and walked into the dark. I followed.
We passed a fine, private dining room, and then a quiet, well-appointed study. Another hundred feet or so we approached a flight of stairs that led to another, bigger flight that took us even deeper. Odd green spheres caught up to us and followed us down. I never learned what they were.
At the bottom she waved her hand again, and another door, this one hidden and in a thick stone wall, opened. We went through, and the green spheres disappeared back up the stairs.
“The stuffed hats don’t know about this place,” she said as she waved her hand again. Torches against the walls flared to life as the door closed. “They want to sit at the big round table in public view and talk about how good they are, how warm and fuzzy everything is if you just act properly, like all good witches do!” She raised her voice mockingly and tittered. “Sweetness and light solve all problems, don’t know you, Nathan? Just smile at it and pat it on the head, and it will behave! That’s what they’ve been doing to me. The sad thing is, it worked—for a while. But no longer.”
I was listening to her, yes. But I was also looking at all the odd bottles and beakers and glass cups with mysterious bubbling liquids in them, and the twirly, twisty instruments, and wands, and the blackened skull on a small pedestal with the candle on top of its head and wax down its sides. The air smelled even stranger down here. Strange—but also very good. I couldn’t quite get a handle on it. It touched the back of my brain, but refused to come forward to be recognized.
“I’m sorry they’re so miserable,” I offered genuinely, bringing my attention back to her. “I wish I could help.”
Her bad mood evaporated as she strode towards me. Her wicked smile held me fast. “Oh, my sweet dear, you can, you can.”
It was a moment I will take to my grave as one of the finest of my entire life, for it was the moment that she slid up against me, wrapped her arms around me, and kissed me.
When I overcame my astonishment, I held her back and returned her passion with my own. When I did she moaned very softly and came to her toes (I was a good five inches taller than her) and teased my tongue with her own with even greater fervor.
I was lust itself. There was Zelena and nothing else in my universe.
She ended the kiss by sucking on my lower lip. “Mmmm ...”
I wanted more; she brought her hand to my mouth and murmured, “I’ve wanted to do that for so long. I just wanted to give you a taste of what’s coming once you retrieve my pendant. That and much more. I promise.”
She dropped her hand and kissed my lips, then licked them lightly, like they were covered with frosting. “I promise.”
I could scarcely get my larynx to work over my pounding heart. “You truly are wicked.”
She smiled. But it wasn’t wickedly or flirtatiously. It was with genuine gratitude spiced heavily with sadness.
“No matter what happens, Nathan, I want you to know that ... I ...”
She stopped and glanced at the table with the odd-colored liquids in the odd beakers.
“That you what?”
But she wasn’t interested in continuing. It was also apparent that she wasn’t interested in letting me go. She returned her attention to me.
“You’re a really good kisser,” she whispered, staring at my lips.
“I’ve never kissed anyone in my entire life,” I stated with simple innocence.
“As many as you want, My Lady.”
Our lips met again, very tentatively at first, and then with sudden, explosive passion. She grabbed the back of my head, lacing her fingers through my hair, as we worked less at what felt like kissing and more like simple, atavistic consumption of the other. Of the other’s being.
She stopped abruptly. Her face was wet. Not from kissing, but from tears.
“What’s ... what’s wrong?” I begged. “I’ll do anything for you. Anything. Just name it, Zelena. I’m yours.”
She blinked tears from her eyes and patted my chest with her free hand, which she brought from my lower back to between us. “You are ...” she sighed “... you are a beautiful and unique person, Nathan. You are a true treasure. You don’t even have your heart. I ... I can’t imagine what you’d be like if you did. That passion inside you ... it’s there. I can feel it, even now, even when I shouldn’t! I so want to find out. Oh, I do, I do ...”
“So why don’t you?” I demanded, apathetic, at least momentarily, about my still-wayward Cruxx or healing my soul so that when she put the Cruxx back in me I wouldn’t die. With only a tinge of bravado I said: “Put it back in me. Let me show you how I feel. How I really feel. Please ... please, Zelena ...”
She hugged me, hiding her face. “I will ... I will ... How can I refuse such an offer?”
We held each other in silence. Holding her was amazing. I could feel her breathing against me, and the sensuous curve of the small of her back. I could feel how alone she was, how isolated she felt, and how angry that made her.
How angry that made me.
I was almost her spiritual twin. The only difference, really, besides the fact that we were opposite sexes, was that my heart was glowing almost purely white and hers was almost totally black. Was that why she clung to me now? Was that the wellspring of her passion for me?
Did it matter?
I had never fallen in love before. Without a doubt, I knew that I loved her. I would be willing to die in order to help and protect her.
She was probably ten years or more my senior. That didn’t seem to matter. She certainly didn’t seem to care!
She pulled back far enough to look into my eyes. I reached between us and wiped a tear from her cheek.
I thought we might kiss again, but she whispered, “How do you feel?”
It didn’t take much thought to answer. “Like I can do anything with you in my arms. Like a god.”
“Good,” she smiled with obvious effort. “Good. Then it worked.”
I was confused. “What worked?”
“I ...” she licked my lips again “... I gave you a potion. My lips ... my mouth ... when we kissed I gave you a potion. It’s a protection spell. It takes the courage you already have and ramps it up with a little assist from your own desire.”
I chuckled incredulously. “You ... gave me a potion? In your kiss?”
She grinned, her eyebrows lifting. “Delicious, isn’t it?” The grin faded. “It has another function, though. It will protect your soul for what comes next.”
I was fascinated. I wasn’t angry that she just tricked me; I didn’t care if she did or not. I trusted her implicitly. She saved my life. Whatever darkness she possessed did not scare me. I knew somehow that she would never use it against me.
“What comes next?”
She released me. “The potion will protect you. It will mask your abilities as you seek my pendant, which my monkeys have found.”
“Your monkeys? The flying ones?”
“Yes,” she said with a sideways smirk. “They can be very useful.” The tears in her eyes and her red cheeks made me ache. She was trying very hard to regain composure and struggling.
I wanted to help her do that, so I nodded as though discussing battle plans. I was her ally. “So how do I deal with the trolls? I assume trolls still have it?”
She nodded angrily. “Men too. Sometimes trolls will ally with men to further their rotten deeds.”
I knew that about trolls, but for some reason the fact didn’t seem relevant until just then. She went to the table with the bubbling beakers and grabbed two, one with black liquid in it, one with white. There was one with yellow liquid in it, but she left that one alone.
She came back. She gazed at me from over the steam rising from their tops.
“I’ve worked very hard on these potions for weeks now. That’s pretty much all I’ve done whenever I can manage to get away from the stuffed hats. The problem is, Nathan, these potions ... they will only protect us for a day—twenty-four hours. I can’t make them any more potent or long-lasting than that. They fail if I try—and that includes the potion I just gave you with our kiss!”
“Why are they different colors?”
“One is for you ...”
She handed the black potion to me.
“... and this one is for me.”
I gazed at the beaker with the yellow liquid. “What does that potion do?”
She glanced quickly at it, then back at the floor between us. “It’s not quite ready.”
That was all she seemed interested in saying about it.
She held up the beaker with the white liquid. The teary smile she wore brightened a little. “To you, Nathan. To the goodness inside you that will protect my darkness.”
I understood then why the potions were differently colored.
I held up my beaker. “To you, My Lady. To the darkness that will protect my light.”
We clicked beakers and drank.
It didn’t taste bad. If anything, it tasted like sweetened black tea. We gulped our respective liquids until both were gone. I gazed at her. I didn’t feel different at all.
That didn’t last. Because what she did next was another life-changer.
I didn’t notice the small, jeweled case in the corner until just then. Something (the potion?) drew my attention to it.
It was the very same one my heart was in, and which I thought was still in my cold shed at home!
“I’ll be damned!” I murmured.
It had come with me!
She went to it and extracted my heart from it and came back to face me. My heart glowed so powerfully that I was certain it could light up the entire room.
“Take it,” she said, handing it to me.
I took it.
Which a sickening plunge of her hand into her own chest, she pulled out her darkened heart. When she recovered, she gazed at me.
“At the same time,” she said, still catching her breath, “I want you to take your heart and put it in me, and I will do the same with my heart to you. It must be at the same time, or it won’t work. Understand?”
I stared, dumbfounded.
Her eyes glittered with new tears. “Do you trust me, Nathan?”
I stared at her heart. “Is this dangerous?”
With hesitation, she nodded. “Yes. Very. If you don’t return in twenty-four hours, your soul will rip my heart to pieces in your own chest. And my soul ... what little of it remains ... will do the same to me with yours. We will both die horribly.”
“I thought our souls were in our hearts.”
“No,” she sniffled. “Our souls rely on our hearts. But they are so much more. You taught me that, Nathan. You did. It’s what inspired me to make these potions. It’s what showed me how to release a curse on the pendant that claims my powers once it’s off my person. I could do that even though it was in the hands of trolls miles and miles away. All because of you. It was you, my sweet Nathan, who inspired me to write down the recipe for an original potion that might be able to take me back in time. I thought if I could do that for you, take you back to your family, help you save them, that you would never have to face all that awful isolation ever again. Please, Nathan ... do you trust me?”
I looked, astonished, into her wet eyes. “Do you trust me?”
She nodded fitfully. “With all my heart.”
“Together then, my love. One ... two ... three!”
At the same moment we pushed our hearts into the other’s chest.