THE POCKET BETWEEN THE CLOUDS
Word Count : 2,708
Pairing(s) : Cis F/Cis F
Rating : T (Teens and above. Brief non-explicit violence)
Main Tags : Fantasy, Paranormal, Fluff, Angst, Pre-slash
A lone winged-woman tired of running finally takes a breath.
Hey, hey, hey, readers, writers, and everyone far and wide! When the idea of this story came to me, it was originally supposed to be about a grumpy witch living alone on a secluded island who unwillingly ends up rescuing a selkie from greedy pirates. Somehow, that idea turned into . . . this. Lmfao.
I'm still going to write that selkie idea, eventually, but I could NOT get this iteration of that idea out of my head, and so, here it is!
This story is more pre-slash than slash i.e. there's chemistry between the two characters, but nothing sexual or romantic happens in the story as it is. It's just implied ;D
Anyway, I hope you all enjoy it! I loved writing it so, so much.
THE POCKET BETWEEN THE CLOUDS Copyright © 2021 Viano Oniomoh All rights reserved.
Venom burned in her throat, rising in tandem with the fear and agony that tore through her bones. Not yet. It was whispered like a prayer; a brief balm to her pain. They mustn’t know, or they’d have knocked her out by now, if not outright killed her.
“I thought they were extinct?” one of the men was yelling, struggling to be heard over the howling of the wind.
“Nah, just went into hiding,” the other replied, staring at her, a smirk on his face.
“Don’t they travel in flocks?” The first man seemed nervous.
“Not sure this one’s got a flock.” He smiled wider like he knew a secret. She swallowed. Her heart pounded. Not yet. “It looks young; a flock would’ve shown by now.”
Lightning flashed, reflecting sharply on their painfully white raincoats. A pause, like the world was holding its breath. Then thunder, so loud it reverberated in her skull.
In the background, voices were yelling commands, and footsteps scrambled in their rush to obey. Their boots made squelching, sticky noises with each movement across the deck, impervious to the slowly rising rainwater.
The net was heavy and steadily growing heavier. Her fingers were frozen, claw-like in their desperate, agonised grip through the metal holes. She swallowed, but the venom built back up, twice as fast, flooding her mouth. Her left wing hurt so much she let it hang limp, her right thigh throbbing where an arrow remained lodged in it. The rain pelted down on her face, thankfully masking her tears.
“Its bad luck,” the first man yelled, his eyes darting to land everywhere but at her, “to catch an émusu in a storm.”
She almost laughed at the irony of them calling her a demon.
“Superstition.” The other man scoffed with derision. The hood of his raincoat hid most of his features, but the glint in his eyes was unmistakable. “It’s going to fetch us such a pretty penny, aye, Emeka?”
“Sure,” Emeka said, unsurely.
She didn’t look away from the man’s eyes, swallowing, swallowing, until someone called him away.
The clouds surrounded the ship in a thick, roiling dark mist. The ship was still, and so was she. The only sign time wasn’t frozen was the beacon at the top of the crow’s nest, blinking into the night like a hulking, glowing red eyeball.
Her eyes moved sideways to glance at Emeka. He looked painfully young with the puffy curls surrounding his dark face, clutching a crossbow in both hands, slumped against the side of the ship, fast asleep.
Like a phantom, she rose, metal clinking around her in a discordant symphony. Her jaw ached with how hard she was grinding her teeth, a pathetic attempt to distract her from the searing pain in her thigh and wing.
She spat. The iron mesh turned a furious red and began to melt.
Emeka stirred and woke up. At first, given the darkness, he didn’t seem to notice her. Then he jolted backwards with a sharply indrawn breath, his eyes wide, lips parting. He fumbled with the crossbow, but his hands were still sleep-heavy, his body too slow to follow the commands from his brain.
She spat again.
And again, and again, and again, faster, almost in rhythm with her wildly racing heartbeat.
She flung the shackles off her frame at the same moment Emeka’s limbs finally got in gear, crossbow aimed at her chest. He screamed and lost his hold when she darted to his front with a violent snarl, quick as the blinking beacon.
“Emeka!” The cry was hoarse, livid, rapid footsteps pounding up from the cabins.
She twisted around to look, lips still pulled back from her teeth, and that was her mistake. Her vision went white, just as an arrow sank into the flesh of her arm near her shoulder. Her scream was silent, overshadowed by a responding clap of thunder.
Up. The crow’s nest. The lookout was loading another arrow onto their crossbow.
This time, she didn’t hesitate, hopping onto the railing, nimble as a cat.
She was gone, over the side of the ship and falling—down, down into the sky.
The wind felt like ice scouring her injured flesh as she fell, her breaths escaping her lungs in wheezing gasps. Above her, the ship was long gone, its blinking red light fading into the clouds. Lightning flashed within their dark depths, and even now, after everything, it still called to her; a naïve moth drawn to an open flame.
She clutched her bleeding shoulder, tears of pain momentarily blinding her.
She wouldn’t stop this time. She wouldn’t ignore the warning in her gut.
She wouldn’t be caught again.
Anxiety set in, mixed with the stubborn will to live. She gave her wings a tentative stretch and screamed as pain lanced down her back, white-hot like she’d been whipped with a blade. She lost control of her body’s tightly held form, tumbling wildly through the air, arms, legs, and wings spinning, no longer able to tell which way was up.
She didn’t notice the house until she was landing on one of its wired canopies with a silent, pained cry. The mesh dipped beneath her weight and she rolled, helplessly, stopping when she hit the edge of the pitched roof.
She held herself still, biting back distressed cries and grasping frantically at consciousness, but like air, it slipped through her fingers.
“Five hundred thousand. Last price.” A voice, low and gravelly, pulled her from the dark, dreamless depths of unconsciousness.
She was tucked into an unfamiliar bed, almost lovingly, the sheets wrapped around her like a warm, protective cocoon. Her injuries seemed to have disappeared; there was no pain nor discomfort—nothing but serenity.
“Excuse me? Five hundred? For a mere five million volts? You can’t be serious.” A second voice. They kissed their teeth for emphasis. “Is it even fresh?”
“I’d be happy to test it out on your ship if you’d like.”
They made an angry noise. “There’s no need for that.” In a low mutter, though not low enough if they didn’t intend for the first person to hear: “If I’d known, I’d have just gone to the black market.”
“If you prefer the low-grade second-hand stuff, then please go right ahead. Not like I’m holding you hostage.”
An indignant huff. “I’d like to see your permit if you don’t mind.”
“Of course.” The first voice sounded amused. Clothing rustled. A brief silence. “Satisfied?”
“It’ll have to do.” A haughty sniff. “I’ll have the two barrels of five, then.”
Even more amusement. “Just the two?”
Footsteps padded to a far corner of the room. Rusty wheels squeaked across a creaky wooden floor. More silence, then the sound of a beep.
“Lovely. Need help getting it aboard?”
“I’ve got it, thanks.”
The front door opening was like opening a doorway to another world; where the room had been cosy and almost secluded in its previous silence, the sudden sound of wind wailing and rain rushing jolted her out of her tranquillity.
“Just leave the trolley on the porch when you’re done,” the first person yelled. “Thank you for your patronage. Do come again.”
“Not bloody likely.”
The door shut, and she relaxed as she was cushioned in silence once more.
Footsteps moved around the room, the owner of her shelter humming a lulling tune.
The panic chose that moment to make itself known—the need to move, and then keep moving—slowly increasing the speed of her breaths.
“Food’s on the counter whenever you’re ready.” Her heartbeat skipped, but she didn’t outwardly react. The stranger didn’t wait for a response. “Bathroom’s outside, to your left. I’m taking a nap. If you need anything, please don’t hesitate to wake me.”
She waited until the stranger’s rustling ceased. Her mouth was stale, moist with saliva. Even as she tugged on it, scowling, her venom refused to rise. She was too comfortable—too safe. The thought made her chest tighten.
Safety was bad; it meant weakness, vulnerability.
Endless, tense moments passed. Her lids flickered open, and her eyes darted to the corner where she’d last heard the stranger move.
On the floor, hidden underneath a pile of blankets, their body gently undulated in the steady rhythm of sleep.
Slowly, she sat up. Pale pink gauzy netting hid the bed from the rest of the perfectly compact, perfectly square room.
To her right was a bare, brick wall. A kitchenette sat directly opposite the bed. What seemed like hundreds of worn paperbacks lay stacked almost to the ceiling against the wall beside it. To her left, along the wall behind her, were several big, black barrels, piled on top of each other, their surfaces gleaming with an odd, iridescent shine. Her rescuer lay on the floor in front. Right at the centre of the final wall, parallel to the bed, was a single metal door. There were no windows.
Quietly, she catalogued her injuries. Not completely gone as she’d thought, but tenderly taken care of, each wound wrapped in pure white bandages that smelled like lightning. The downy one-inch feathers covering every inch of her skin—apart from her head, neck, hands, and feet—had been lightly plucked and shaved around her wounds, the white of the bandages stark against the dark blue of her feathers and dark brown of her skin. Her fingers brushed against the dressing on her thigh. Static kissed her fingertips, the tingle like a promise. She yanked her hand away.
Then she paused. She glanced at the glistening barrels again, and vaguely recalled the netted canopy she’d landed on, extending high like a wing in flight from the roof outside. She looked at the still sleeping figure.
An omuelo. Light catcher. Like her, there weren’t a lot of those left around.
She shook her head. Her stomach twisted with hunger. Silent as the eye of a storm, she slipped out of the bed, heading straight for the covered plate and bowl waiting for her on the counter. She would eat, and then she’d leave.
Her wings stretched experimentally, almost subconsciously, and she luxuriated in the lack of a single ache within her joints.
She stopped when she uncovered the food, her hands clenching and unclenching.
Pap, a perfect pale yellow, gleamed at her from the bowl. On the plate were several buns of akara, a perfect golden brown.
Her wings suddenly felt ten times heavier, drooping until they were dragging against the floor like a feathered cape. Exhaustion settled deep in her bones, nearly bringing her to her knees in its intensity.
She was so tired. And so fucking lonely.
But she couldn’t—she couldn’t. She grabbed one of the small oval buns, still hot from the frying pan, and shoved it in her mouth like it’d replace the lump in her throat.
I need to go. I can’t stop. I need to go.
Where are you going?
What did it matter? She squared her shoulders. She would eat, and then she’d leave.
She’d gorged down half the bowl of pap when the stranger spoke—“Long way from home,
aren’t you?”—nearly sending her flying into the roof with fright.
She dropped the unfinished bowl onto the counter with a clatter, all her muscles tensing.
The omuelo was a woman. Young, about her age if she had to guess. Dark-skinned and stout, with a cropped afro. She was sitting up cross-legged on her blankets, elbows on her knees. Her right arm was slightly thinner than her left and badly scarred, like it had been doused in flames that weren’t put out quickly enough.
“Unless you’re like me.” She stared blankly. “A loner,” the woman explained, with an infectious smile.
She hadn’t heard when the woman had woken up, her heart pounding at the shock, yet her venom still refused to rise.
“Adaobi,” the woman said, introducing herself. Princess; the first daughter of a king. “Picked the name myself,” she added with a self-assured grin.
She didn’t return the courtesy. Of what use was her name, when it would soon be forgotten?
“You should finish that.” The omuelo jerked her head at the food, unbothered by her lack of response. “Your injuries should be nothing but scars by now”—it was said proudly—“but there’s nothing like a good meal to help you get your strength back.”
“I need to go.” Her voice was croaky from disuse, her words an exhausting mantra.
There’d been a light, she hadn’t noticed, in the omuelo’s eyes. But after her announcement, it disappeared.
“Sure,” the woman—Adaobi—said neutrally. “Door’s unlocked.”
Heart pounding with a strange anxiety, she stalked to it with a resolve she didn’t feel, feathers flicking, and jerked it open.
It was still dark out, but the rain had slowed. The wind was no longer howling, but whistling. Holding her breath, she stepped out onto the deck. Raindrops drummed gently down, plastering her feathers to her skin.
The omuelo’s house lay on a blanket of threatening dark clouds, stretching out and around as far as the eye could see. Above her was yet another blanket of clouds, completely parallel to the one below, making her feel as though she was standing within a secluded strip of the universe.
Like it was waiting for her, several bolts of lightning lit up the pocket between the clouds, flashing down the length of the hidden world like they were performing an intricate dance.
Her pupils blew wide. The subsequent roars of thunder were a distant hum.
“Beautiful, eh?” Adaobi had appeared beside her. The omuelo looked around the deck and kissed her teeth, shaking her head. “Of course she took the trolley.”
She swallowed. She had to go. She had to move. Movement meant staying alive.
Adaobi flexed the fingers of her scarred arm. Bright sparks danced along its span; pure magic. The omuelo grinned when she noticed her staring.
“My first time wielding lightning,” she explained, wiggling her fingers. “Turns out, omuelo or not, no one is invincible. Shocking, I know.”
She found herself smiling, and scowled and jerked her head away when she realised. She resolutely took a step towards the edge of the deck, tensing her wings in preparation of flight, her knees bending to leap.
I need to go. I can’t stop. I need to go.
Where are you going?
“It’s hard,” Adaobi began gently, too gently, “to know how and when to stop. Running is easy, isn’t it? Once you get used to it. But deciding to stop? To stay still, just for one moment? It’s hard. Trust me, I would know.” The omuelo’s words rang true. She didn’t respond. “There’s something about this place,” Adaobi continued, still gently, so gently. “Something about it that makes you feel like you can stop and just . . . breathe.”
She thought of lightning-soaked bandages lovingly wrapped around her injuries, the lack of pain in her wings. Of golden cornmeal and perfectly fried bean cakes. How the house behind her, for the first time in a long time, smelled and felt like home.
Rain splattered her cheeks, and she blamed it for the sting in her eyes.
“Isi,” she whispered, her voice a croak. “My name,” she added, swallowing.
“Stars,” Adaobi echoed. “What a lovely name.”
Warmth filled Isi’s chest, liquid and golden.
“Stay a bit, Isi,” Adaobi said, a little too casually. Her name dripped from the omuelo’s lips like honey. “Finish your meal at least, eh?”
Isi should go, yet every inch of her, down to the last atom, refused to move.
Adaobi was right. All around them were nothing but clouds. The rest of the world didn’t matter, not here. Here, she could just … stop. Breathe.
And so she did. She didn’t glance behind her, even as the back of her neck tingled from the gentle weight of Adaobi’s gaze. She’d vowed to listen to her gut, and her gut said that right now, she was safe. Finally, even if it was for just a moment, she was safe.
And she chose to stay, Isi told herself, for just a moment longer.
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