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Rayleigh
08-10-2017, 11:28 AM
http://i.imgur.com/iMp4KWr.jpg

Rayleigh
08-15-2017, 11:38 AM
http://i.imgur.com/W50Wjsw.png

The carriage bounced through another pothole, wooden wheels creaking in protest. The only thing that protested louder was one of the interior’s two occupants, who was thrown against the door for what had to have been the tenth time that afternoon. For such a petite woman, the string of cuss words she released into the air were neither small, nor ladylike. As her partner remained unmoved, still draped comfortably across the opposite bench, her temper finally flared to a bursting point.

“How do you just sit there like that?” she demanded of him, one hand gesturing wildly. “You aren’t being bounced around at all.”

“Magic,” came the man’s sly answer. Then, “I’m also not four foot and fifty pounds.”

She let his jab at her size go unanswered, as she had grown accustomed to such comments. It was in his first reply that she saw her opening. “Magic, huh?” Now her voice was lighter, a lilt that she favored in situations such as this. Even before she spoke, he knew that she was about to issue a challenge. Had he ever met a woman who issued so many challenges? She continued, “I had always thought that magic was banned in Salvar.”

Rayleigh Aston took great pleasure in the spark of surprise that lit Vincent Cain’s blue eyes. “Salvar?” he echoed, trying and failing to brush the comment off as mere foolishness. “What makes you think we’re in Salvar?”

She rolled her eyes at him, an expression that looked just as at home on her as it had the temperamental teenage girls on Earth. “Because,” she drawled, “it’s frigid in here. And if I’ve learned anything in my adventures with you, it’s that Salvar is colder than a witch’s tit.”

First, Vince experienced the terribly unappealing visual - why did his mind skip right over Sabrina and Willow, and straight to old, wrinkly, and saggy? Then, he kicked himself for teaching his friend that particular Earth phrase. “Not all of Salvar is cold,” he countered after composing himself.

“No,” Rayleigh agreed. “Just the parts you keep sending me to.”

Now it was Vincent’s turn to roll his eyes. “You’re grumpy today,” he commented dryly.

She frowned at him, her short arms reaching out to brace themselves against the walls. The position made her look a bit like a crazed animal attempting to free its cage, which was not too far from the truth. “Of course I’m grumpy. I’m cooped up in here.”

“You don’t like carriages, you don’t like horses, and you don’t like boats.” He folded his arms against his chest, settling back in the cushioned seat to look her up and down. “How do you expect to get anywhere in life?” A small smile quirked his lips as he added, “literally, and figuratively.”

“Your portal works just fine, thanks.”

Now he grinned. “I just remembered something. Don’t you not like magic either?”

She scowled, turning her entire body to face the window as she muttered, “bite me.” There was nothing to see, considering Vincent had pulled the curtains across the glass, but it still felt like an act of defiance to her.

Grumpy, Vincent thought to himself as he stared at the back of her head. Full of piss and vinegar, as his grandpa used to say. Not depressed, quiet, or apathetic, the way she had been over the past few weeks. The typically lively Rayleigh had fallen into a routine of quiet brooding, neglecting her food, her chores, and more importantly, her shop. Projects sat untouched, half-finished husks left in the abandoned room, useless without her to give them purpose and breathe them life. She was too busy wandering the halls, sleeping, or reading books he knew she had read before. It was difficult for him to watch, though he had at first wondered if he was being irrational. Was she not free to spend her hours doing whatever she wanted? Was he being too overbearing, too paranoid, because he had grown too close to her? So he waited until the other members of the Tarot Hierarchy began to ask questions. Then, he wrote a letter.

Reflecting on the past softened his expression, though he knew she could not see it. Grumpy was just fine. “You’re just bitter because you don’t like surprises.”

“Bet your ass,” she shot back. Rayleigh would not turn to look at him, and her fingers itched to yank back the thick wool window drapings. She let them roam the rough edges, teasing both herself and her companion, as she asked, “why can’t I look? And why didn’t you just transport us straight to our destination, instead of a place nearby?” She had been blindfolded then. He had led her through the shimmering portal to the tiny Salvic town where he had arranged for further transportation to be waiting. Only after he had carefully and securely bundled her in the carriage did he allow her to remove the cloth from her eyes.

“Because I like surprises,” he informed her matter-of-factly. “And I like suspense. And this is building it.”

She looked as if she were about to argue, but Vincent stopped her with a wave of his hand. The carriage had shifted, now climbing a sloping incline. It was not a violent change, by any means, but both felt themselves shifting backward the slightest bit. For Vince, it was also an indicator of their location. “Hold that thought,” he told her, “because we’re just about there.”

“Just about where?” But he let the question hang heavy between them, content to simply lean back and imagine what her reaction would be when she finally saw what he had cooked up for her.

Despite the pout Rayleigh wore, Vincent was able to detect the faintest traces of interest as as the vehicle finally drew to a halt. “Can I look now?” she asked over her shoulder, pressing herself even closer to the window.

“Just wait,” he answered, and shoved past her to crawl through the small doorway. As it swung outward, the cramped space filled with hazy gray light, and a blast of cold air. He drew in a long breath as the damp breeze chilled his cheeks, filling his lungs with the scent of the sea. He turned back to her, halfway out the door, a mischievous smile on his young face. “When you’re ready,” he told her, “grab the coat from the compartment under your seat. Then come out.”

He left her there, frowning against the cold and the air of surprise. Surprises made her anxious, and Vincent knew that. Whatever this was, Rayleigh thought to herself, Vincent was either incredibly proud of it, or he simply had a death wish. A strong urge to sit and stew gripped her, as it would absolutely serve him right for putting her through this. But that small flicker of curiosity had been fanned into a flame, warming her core despite the lingering chill in the air. So she spared only a moment before fishing the heavy coat from under the seat, pulling it on, and climbing into the crisp afternoon.

Immediately, she was thankful for the coat’s wool lining, much warmer than the rough fabric typical of Alerar. Rayleigh pulled the coat tighter around her small body as she trudged up behind, and then alongside, Vincent. Then, she glanced skyward.

It was the tower that caught her attention first. How could it not, given it dwarfed her in its reach for the heavens. Constructed entirely of rough stone, the spire lacked the perfectly round shape that she had come to expect. On the contrary, it appeared a bit boxy in shape, with small rectangular windows climbing each side. The rich grays and browns of the stone matched those beneath her feet, and the rugged cliffs that rose and fell as far as she could see. The tower, she noted in awe, appeared to have been built only of materials from the spot itself. The only exception was the lantern room, which shimmered with the few rays of muted sunlight that permeated the thick clouds. Multiple panes of glass came together to form the small space, allowing a person to see for miles in any direction. What appeared to be worn iron crowned the lantern room, coming to a smart point nearly one hundred and fifty feet above her. A small platform and railing, made of the same weather-battered iron, twisted around the lantern room. Rayleigh had a very sudden, and very powerful urge to be up there.

“What is it?” she breathed, still gazing upward.

“It’s a lighthouse.” The trance was broken by the man’s matter-of-fact reply, and just in time for Rayleigh to jab her elbow in his ribs. He sucked in breath, shoving aside the sharp stab of pain, as he asked, “what did we decide about stupid questions?”

“They get stupid answers,” she grumbled, conceding the point. It had been a stupid question. Pausing for a moment to rework her query, she shielded her eyes with the flat of her hand, still gazing up at the enormous structure. “Okay,” she began again finally, “why are we here?”

“To breathe some life back into the old thing,” came Vincent’s answer.

Rayleigh tore her gaze away to look at him. “It doesn’t work anymore?”

He shook his head. “It hasn’t worked for a few months,” he explained, now staring up at the lighthouse himself. “Since it was abandoned.”

The thought horrified her, as demonstrated by the crescendo in her voice. “Abandoned? Why in the world would someone abandon such an interesting place?” There was something he wasn’t telling her, and his silence prompted her to urge him on with a gentle shove. “Hey,” she insisted, “why was it abandoned?”

His answer was soft and solemn, as if he had hoped to avoid sharing this particular piece of information. “The previous keeper died.”

“Ah,” was all she could say, giving a slight nod of understanding. “I guess that’s a pretty good excuse.” She paused for a beat, then fired a barrage of questions, “But what are we supposed to do with it? Are you thinking about rebuilding it? Do you know anything about construction?” Her friend had a lot of knowledge stored in that blonde head, but she was hard pressed to believe flipping lighthouses was among it.

At this, a devilish smile snaked its way across Vincent’s wind-chapped lips. “I,” he began putting extra emphasis on the word, “don’t need to know about construction. I’m not the one working on it.”

Rayleigh’s mouth opened and closed, like a fish thrown against the rocky shore below, gasping for breath. Finally, she managed a simple, “Say what?”

Vincent turned to her, his hand planting a few reassuring pats on her back. “You’re the new lighthouse keeper,” he informed her, his blue eyes impossibly blue, shimmering with excitement. The typically stoic Emperor of the Tarot Hierarchy looked like a child in a toy shop, about to burst at the seams.

A wave of emotions washed over her - excitement, confusion, surprise - each struggling to reach the surface first. In the end, it was annoyance that heated her cheeks, which were already pink with the incessant wind. Perhaps that was her dominant trait after all.

“You found me a lighthouse?” Her voice, powered by those warring emotions, boomed over the commanding slap of the waves on the rocks.

Despite the raw emotion in her voice and on her face, Vincent’s enthusiasm did not waver; he had grown used to watching her ride the entire spectrum of moods in record time. “Nope,” he answered cheerfully, “I bought you a lighthouse.”

Somehow, that made things worse. “Why?” she demanded, throwing her arms out wide to emphasize her confusion and frustration.

“A few reasons. First, the Tarot needs an outpost in Salvar. Second, I know the people who rule over this area, so I know we’ll be looked after. And third,” he concluded mischievously, “the lighthouse is rigged with loads of wires, switches, and engines.”

“Wires, switches and-” her voice trailed. Rayleigh deflated, the negative emotions expelled from her like air from a balloon. Then she grinned, an expression so brilliant that it seemed to cut through the haze of approaching winter. “Okay, fine,” she surrendered, “tell me more about it.”

Vincent turned back to give a small wave to the carriage driver, who remained perched atop the bench. He was bundled tightly against the cold, with thick gloves warming his hands as they loosely gripped the leather reins. Rayleigh was no fan of horses - she quite disliked them, in fact - but she had to respect the team of hearty mares. Despite the wind that whistled through the thick forest of conifers behind them, and the steady crash of the waves below, they remained entirely unfazed. Salvarian horses, she concluded, meaning that they were used to such a harsh terrain. The mechanic from Alerar wondered if she would ever reach a point where she could be anything but cold and lost in Salvar. She doubted it.

She felt her friend move up beside her. “We might as well just go look inside. You’ll probably know more about everything than I would, once you see it.” Rayleigh nodded, knowing he was probably right. By now, the mention of new technology had sent her heart racing, and anticipation warmed her core like a fire had been lit there. “Go on,” Vincent continued, giving her a gentle shove forward. “It’s warmer in there anyway.”

As if she had needed more reason to enter the two-story colonial that stood adjacent to the tower. The woman hurried off, the wind tearing at her oversized coat and mane of unruly brown hair. Vincent watched her go with a sort of wonder, and a small smile that was soft with adoration. That was the most excited he had seen her in what had to be a couple of months. There had been a glimmer in those emerald eyes, one he hadn’t seen in too long. One he had grown to miss quite terribly. Like her machines, Rayleigh Aston needed purpose. If buying her a lighthouse was what it took, he’d happily take ownership of every one in Althanas. With the picture of her smile still fresh in his mind, he walked after her.