Author: Brandon Hill
Genre: science fiction/fantasy
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1
Aldrec was an elf who was mystery to all but himself. Keeping others at arm’s length, he lived each day staving off madness from his impossibly long and somewhat reclusive life. Mericlou was an Alerian model: an obsolete brand of android from a bygone era, lost in the monotony of the daily grind and her eccentric ‘family.’ Their friendship, born of serendipity, healed their lonely souls. Later, love entwined their lonely hearts…and nearly rekindled a shameful war.
Nalsa district, across the river, Number 4 Windhill Apartments.
The elf repeated the address to himself as he pushed his way through the crowds. In human cities it was unusual for a something as petty as purse-snatching to be the subject of intense gossip amongst the marketplace goers, but elven cities like Lusea were known for their tranquility and near-nonexistent crime. The owner of the flower shop, an elf maiden who knew him, had given him the android's address from her records after his promise to deliver the flowers she had dropped, and he had magically stored them for safekeeping. Her home was not far away. Yet he hoped that he could find her first and offer his help.
He was in luck, it seemed, as he became aware of her crying above the ambient noise of the thinning crowds as he reached the marketplace edge. Her electronic voice was very distinctive, and her cries were both plaintive and miserable.
The elf pressed on through the final throngs of shoppers and followed the sound at last to a lone figure sitting on the steps of a shop just beyond the pillars of the marketplace atrium. Her face was buried in her hands.
He came to her side and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. Slowly, she lifted her head.
"By the Divine…!" the elf gasped, eyes widening at the sight of her.
She was beautiful!
Though her amber-colored doe eyes were bloodshot and red, her tear-streaked face was, like all androids, devoid of any physical blemish. If it could be said to be an imperfection, there was only a tiny mole set below and to the right of her deep-bronze-red lips. A black leather choker was clasped around her neck, from which hung a gold-encrusted amethyst. Androids were a common sight, and female types, even more so, but it was as if, at the sight of this particular android, he had never truly noticed them before. For a second, he simply stared, his voice caught in his throat at her beauty that, for lack of a better word, could only be described as perfect.
The elf fumbled with his hip satchel for a handkerchief, which he offered to the android. The android hiccupped another couple of suppressed sobs as she stared curiously at him then at his gift. With only the faintest of smiles, she accepted it. The pale, near-alabaster tone of her skin made her fingers seem as delicate as a china doll's.
"I saw what happened," the elf said, finally finding his tongue. He knelt beside the android as she used the handkerchief to dab at her eyes. "Are you okay?"
The android shook her head, and a couple more tears streamed down her stained cheeks.
"No…I…I think I'm really, really far from okay," she croaked. "That little punk… My entire life was in that purse! My ether link, my makeup, my ID cards…"
Her last few words became garbled as she grimaced and broke again into a torrent of cries and wails. She buried her face in the handkerchief, and before long, had soaked it through with her tears.
"It's…the perfect end…to a perfect day!" She came up for air, only to cover her face again and resume her crying fit.
Alarmed, yet hesitant, the elf placed his arm around her shoulder, and to his surprise, she readily accepted him. The android leaned into his breast, and coughed out a few more ragged sobs, too exhausted to cry anymore.
"Th-thank you," she quavered, having composed herself and looking more than a little embarrassed at having emptied her sorrow into the bosom of a complete stranger. "I'm not usually like this, really. It's just that…well, today's just gone all to hell, if you know what I mean?" She followed her statement with a loud, wet sniffle.
"Oh, I can guess," the elf said, recalling, in spite of himself, his mood before seeing her chase after that purse-snatcher. He gave her a reassuring smile. "Besides, I've had something of a bad day myself."
"Have you ever had your purse stolen?" The android asked, as though nothing could have possibly been worse than what had happened to her.
At this, the elf stifled a potentially regrettable laugh. "No, but then again, how many men, human or otherwise, do you see with a purse?"
The android let out a slight guffaw, and smiled.
"Aha, so you can laugh!" the elf said. "I was beginning to wonder if your sense of humor had been taken as well. But seriously, if I did have a purse—heaven forbid—I know that it isn't exactly the best thing to wear in the city, even in Lusea. It's too easy to steal: bands snap; there's nothing to hold on to. I've seen it before."
"I guess I learned it the hard way, huh?" the android said grimly. She bent over, cradling her forehead in her hands. "Boy, was I stupid, or what?"
"Look, don't talk like that." The elf shook his head resolutely. "You're not stupid. You just made a mistake, is all. Besides, that kid was the one to blame. He was the one who stole your purse. Hey, that reminds me…"
He removed his hip satchel from his belt and unzipped it. "Here," he said, "you can have this."
"Oh, no!" the android said, pushing it away the moment he presented it. "I couldn't possibly-"
"No, I insist," the elf said, pushing it back her way. "Besides, it's full of stuff that I don't really need. Go ahead. Take a look inside."
She wiped the stray tears from her face and eyed him suspiciously, but the elf's reassuring smile was mysteriously disarming. She reached inside.