T'ongil

The thirst for love

J. Winter




Changmi, known to her customers as Rose, spent her days comforting the desire in those driven to her. They yearned for a look, a special caress, any way to touch the beauty dwelling in her. Yet no one, no thing could touch her. Not until another appeared, a kindred soul who discovered that place, her refuge, that belonged to her alone.

Unknown to Changmi, a secret dwelt there that he opened. It blossomed into a magnificent flower, but held a secret of its own. Once revealed, could she survive the flame?

T'ongil, the word for unity, is a mystical journey into the ache of separation, the depth of loneliness, and that sacrifice only possible within love's embrace. T'ongil leaves you with one question -- if love came, could you give it your life?




T'ongil

The thirst for love

Published by Stillmind Press. Printed in the United States of America.

Copyright © 2002 Julian Winter All rights reserved. Email: julian@julianwinter.com

Cover design by Saeeda Carrimjee.

Publisher - Cataloging-in-Publication

Winter, J. (Julian)

T'ongil : the thirst for love / J. Winter - - 1st ed.

LCCN 2001127153 ISBN 0-9715981-1-8

1. Love stories. 2. Korea - Fiction. 3. Indians of North America - Fiction. 4. Spirituality - Fiction.

I. Title.

PS3623.I6374T66 2002 813-.6

Translation: the white butterfly waits for the yellow rose to bloom.




The moon gazes, the sun sleeps.

The sun rises, the moon weeps.

Came two hearts, from the night.

Stillness torn apart, separate light.

Ri, 9 years

To those tears we leave behind ...




chapter 1

She loved to ride bareback. It was risky without the saddle, but nothing approached the breathtaking depth of being when two become one. She sat astride her mount and dug both heels into his flanks. She followed his rhythm for a while and then pushed her hips forward to wrest control from him. He relented and gave her the reins. He was lathered from exertion and ready to quit, but she wanted more before they turned back.

Gently she coaxed him onward. "Not yet," she whispered, her breath caressing his skin.

"I can't go on."

"Yes you can. Do it for me." She leaned down to his ear. "I'm not ready yet."

"Rose, I love you."

"I know."

Today she was trying a new perfume. It shyly followed the heat rising from her body to swirl invisibly around her face. She inhaled, pulling the scent deliciously deep, then closed her eyes and flung her head back. He clutched her hair, but she felt only the light green waves splashing against her thighs. Her toes sank deeper into the sand. A lone gull floated overhead. It looked through her the way gulls do. It spoke, but she couldn't hear the words over the crash of waves. She felt herself start to rise. She couldn't stop the pulse of energy flooding her veins. She was ready. From deep inside she growled, "Now."

After he had left, Ajuma glared at her from the bottom of the stairs. "Changmi, you were over time again."

"Why do you hassle me, Ajuma? I have the best repeat rate and the most customers. Shall I leave?"

"That's my point. He's hooked. Don't spend extra time on him. Finish and go on to the next."

"I do it for myself, not him."

"I don't understand you, Changmi. I've been doing this since before you were born and I've never met anyone with your magic. If you ever lose it-"

"I know, I'll have to take your job."

Ajuma lifted her hand, feigning a strike to Changmi's face. "Aghhh. A new horse is waiting for you in Room 3."

~

Her hair lay sprawled about her on the ground as if arranged for a pose. It was that undecided strawberry hue caught between blond and red. She looked seven, maybe six years old. Although conscious, she wasn't moving. Her eyes searched those above her for some comfort. She found his and clung desperately. He sent a smile, but when her chin began to tremble he raised a finger to his lips, signaling her to hush. She didn't have much time.

Nicte approached the child, following ancient instincts. She took her time, measuring the distance between them, each step shortening the final leap. But she knew he was watching. She looked up to find his eyes. He returned her stare, unflinching. She looked away first, back toward the child, but knew she'd been warned. Surprisingly the girl did not scream. Ainsley hoped she could remain still.

He grabbed the rail that separated him from the danger below. His pulse echoed off its hardness. The metal was hotter than it should be this time of year. He looked up into the day's sky. Pure blue poured for miles in every direction. He turned his attention back to the girl. She was still alert despite the long fall. She was tough. Nicte looked up, hoping to catch him off guard, but he was waiting. She twisted her chin toward him to snarl in frustration. The glint of her eyes in the sunlight was striking. It was a beautiful day, as good as any, to die.

Before he could leap two armed guards ran up to him. The older one gulped for air, unable to speak. He bent down with hands on his knees while the weight of too many years hung heavily between his legs. The younger one looked over the railing and shuddered. Ainsley paused to measure the two men opposing him. Jock's eyes were retired. He just wanted to get through the day to his beer and whatever images floated across the television screen. Robie was a twenty-one-year-old college student majoring in zoology. This job provided spending money and class credit. Emergencies were not part of his job description. From the way he held his weapon it was likely he'd never fired a gun. He had no intention of intervening.

Ainsley knew what Jock would say after he caught his breath so he spoke first. "Put the rifles down. I don't want to antagonize them."

Jock spoke between gasps, "Ainsley, you're aware of protocol." He sucked in another breath. "We can't spare them. Human life takes priority." He stood erect, gaining back some strength.

Ainsley focused his eyes directly on Jock's face. "I'm going in. If you shoot I'll tear your throat out. If I fail do what you must."

Jock shifted his gaze from Ainsley to the compound below. "At that point it'll be too late for her."

"She's on borrowed time already."

"The procedure is to save her now""no t after you fail."

"If you shoot any of them before I say to, you'd better shoot me as well. You know I will take your throat out."

Robie watched their exchange. He couldn't handle the pressure any longer. One knee shook so violently he had to sit down. From there he struggled to hold back his stomach's contents. Jock spoke into a communication device. Ainsley put his fingertips to the railing, ready to jump this time.

A man's hand clamped onto his shoulder. Ainsley turned only enough to face the new interruption.

"I'm an off-duty police officer." He had a service revolver drawn.

"Then you can help by securing this crowd."

"The guard is right. We need to protect the girl. I'm going to kill the one nearest the child."

"That's Nicte. The others are waiting for her signal, which is why the girl is still alive. If you don't hit her dead center to the cortex she'll kill the child before you pull a second round. The other three are younger sisters. Even if you handle Nicte you won't finish them before the girl is unrecognizable as a human. They'll kill her out of revenge."

"So who the hell are you?"

"Her only chance," said Jock.

"I can't allow it," said the officer.

"You're going to allow it," said Ainsley. He locked eyes with the officer, whose eyes were uncaring, bound by too many rules and procedures. He was prepared to carry out his threat. Still, Ainsley sensed hesitation. "We don't have much time. Clear this crowd."

The officer couldn't match Ainsley's intensity and backed off. He pulled out a radio to contact his superiors. Ainsley heard sirens coming their way. His window was closing quickly.

He made sure Nicte saw him before he leaped over the railing. She snarled, but backed up several steps. He landed lightly on his feet a few yards from the child, who looked at him with relief and surprise. She probably didn't expect someone to purposely enter the danger she'd fallen into by accident. Amazingly, she still had not screamed. He dug his fingers into the thick grass. Last night's rain had left the ground cool. Indeed this was a good day to die.

He took a moment to inspect the girl's condition. She had the incredible purity of skin that marks a child. Yet only feet away waited Nicte, who could shred that beauty in seconds. Ainsley was impressed by the girl's courage. She deserved a chance.

The sun's warmth bore down on him like a hand to his back pushing him to do what he must. He cast a last glance to the sky. A dying leaf circled in the wind, looking for a final resting place. It decided on the girl's face and landed carefully on her cheek. It was curious how the crimson splotch it created could either be a lovely blush highlighting her youth, or the stain of blood. As always, nature continued about its business indifferent to human predicament. Whether or not she lived today, he knew everything was as it must be.

He reached over to lift the lost leaf from her face and place it next to her. "Are you hurt?"

She shook her head no.

"The tiger nearest you, breathing on you, is Nicte. She's top dog here."

She giggled. Apparently she liked his joke.

"Can you move?"

She nodded yes.

"It was very smart to remain still. What's your name?"

She pointed to her throat. Ainsley realized her silence wasn't due to fear.

"Can you understand me?"

She nodded.

"You can tell me your name later. Let's get you back to your mother."

She signaled OK.

"Just a couple rules. Don't make any fast movements and don't look them in the eye. Most important, don't run. They love to chase."

She started to whimper. That had been a mistake to say.

"Honey, I won't let them hurt you. I'm the boss here and they listen to me or else I make them stay in their rooms."

She sucked the sobs back into her throat.

"You were brave waiting here for me. I'm very proud of you."

She smiled at his encouragement.

"I'll lift you onto my back. Can you hang on like a baby monkey?"

She managed another smile and nodded yes. Ainsley kept his eyes on Nicte. She'd backed off, but was pressing forward again. Her sisters were pressuring her. If she didn't act, they would. She tested Ainsley with a ferocious growl. His glare held her at bay. He heard a commotion overhead. Nicte's display had unsettled the crowd. Jock and the officer targeted their guns on her.

"Lower your weapons or this child's blood is on your hands."

"Ainsley, I have direct orders to start putting the cats down," said Jock.

The sirens went silent, indicating the police cruisers had arrived. He was out of time.

The girl lay between him and Nicte. He'd respected Nicte's claim to the prey, but now he was going to break their delicate truce. He approached the child and spoke to Nicte. "I've got to take her with me. I'm asking your permission, Nicte." The cat stepped closer and halted three feet from the girl. She pulled her lips back to reveal aging but still effective fangs. From deep in her throat came a blend of purr and growl that begrudgingly said yes. Up in the crowd a woman screamed.

"Jock, clear those people away. I'm taking her out now. No surprises." He looked up into Jock's eyes to deliver his final command. "This time she's mine."

There was fear in Jock's eyes, and sweat. He wiped them clear with his wrist and blinked several times. Jock's indecision gave Ainsley his moment.

"Honey, we're going to leave now. I'll lift you up and we'll get out of here."

She turned her head toward Nicte, her whiskers so close they nearly touched the girl's face, and shuddered.

"Turn away from her."

She did, but started to hyperventilate.

"I bet your mommy is waiting with an ice cream for you."

She moaned, the closest to a scream she could manage. She had reached her breaking point. Ainsley saw other figures taking position above him. Nicte paced with increasing anxiety. He had to slip into the seam before it closed.

He maneuvered the girl onto his back and turned to face Nicte. He'd taken control. She was stepping back, but one of her sisters broke into a trot toward them and the others joined.

"Damn," Ainsley muttered. He knew if they became frenzied his chance was over. Running was useless, so he set the girl down and stood between her and the three approaching cats.

He always expected it to end something like this for himself. It was too bad about the girl, though. He could die anytime, but this child had barely begun her life. He looked into her eyes and tried to imagine the life she might have led. Why did it have to end this way for her?

From his left a blur of motion pushed by him. Nicte. He felt the silkiness that was her fur lightly brush against him as she leaped to intercept her sisters. She ran head-on into the lead cat and slapped her face fiercely. Nicte received a slap in return and the two started trading taunts.


Then he felt it coming, as the wind slowed to a tiptoe and the sounds around him fell silent. A sensation that he first experienced as a child standing on the bluffs of his homeland. It came of Its own accord, uninvited but always welcome. He shivered when the unmistakable Presence fully enveloped him.

Time was his now, so he looked around. He felt the pulse of each tree pushing into its leaves. They weren't trees""that was a contrivance of ours. There was only tree. The rhythmic flow dripped from each leaf into the waiting emptiness, gathering the drops into a pool, from which emerged the breeze that darted among the branches. It was seamless, this movement in which, what was tree and what was wind moved without division. Everything was every thing.

He turned to the small pond in the middle of the compound. Each ray of sunlight sparkling on the water waited for him to count it before fading into the next. Thousands turned into millions yet he saw each one. The wind, which usually raced past him, stopped to whisper long and loving in his ear before continuing on its way. Underlying all this was the soft sound of chimes, tapping a gentle beat to which everything danced.

He looked at the cats tussling. What had seemed like savage fighting was nothing more than a game of tag. He looked up to the crowd. They stood like statues, silent and dumb. Their weapons didn't work here. In this world he could walk unseen. He would take the girl now with no fear for her safety.

He was ready to slip away when he felt another shiver along his spine. He wasn't expecting this. Something shared the emptiness with him. Like him it didn't obey the rules of the world. He knew where to look as he turned toward the figure emerging from the cave. It was more of a shadow than a form, her black fur disappearing against the cave's darkness like velvet in the night. There was no mistaking those eyes, though. Only one cat had eyes so cold. The commotion had awakened the jaguar Bella Donna. She looked directly at Ainsley. Life or death was now her decision.

He scooped the girl into his arms and never looked back as he walked to the side gate. Thankfully, Gilana was waiting there with the gate unlocked. He squeezed through and only then looked back toward the mouth of the cave. Nothing was there.

He pulled the girl close to his chest. She laid her head on his shoulder and squeezed his neck mightily. He comforted her with long, slow strokes up and down her back.

He smiled at Gilana. "Thanks." She could only stare at him. Her eyes were so white it was as if the iris had dissolved. Jock appeared, leading a medical crew. They removed the child, leaving the three of them alone.

"My God!" said Gilana. "How did you do it?"

"Nicte let us go."

"What do you mean?"

He glanced over to Jock, who looked drained. "Thanks."

"I owed you."

He looked back to Gilana. She was waiting for his answer. "It's over, everything is OK. Let's clean up." He looked back through the grating at the cats. Nicte was still wrestling with her sisters, who were venting their pent-up rage on her. "Close the exhibit for the rest of the day. They need time alone." He grabbed the bucket of sirloin Gilana had brought.

"What are you doing?" she asked.

"I need to break them up before Nicte gets hurt."

~

He fiddled with the lock to make sure it was latched tight behind him. The smell of freshly cut meat rose from the pail he held. He looked into the bucket of flesh so similar to his own and wondered if there was any difference to her whether she dined on him or the bucket's contents. Therein lay the intoxication he found with the large cats. As chilling as it was, the danger was contained, leaving him always just safely beyond its reach. He sucked in a breath of that power, feeling nearly immortal. He set the bucket down just as he heard the unmistakable creak of hinges turning inward. It was a sound he shouldn't be hearing. Not while he was here, on the inside. He glanced to the door he'd just entered. It was several feet away and locked. He'd carefully ensured that. What he'd overlooked was the other entrance, the important one that led in from the outside. It would take too long to unlock the door he'd entered. He was trapped and would have to play by her rules.

The smell winding its way to his nostrils sent a shudder down his spine. He knew that scent. Her musky presence preceded her like a procession of servants clearing her path.

His skin turned prickly hot as he considered the reality of what was happening. The proximity to danger he found so thrilling had just reached out and grabbed his jugular. He realized now he'd been a spectator in what was a game of keeps. He dared not move too fast, but he had to see what he knew stood behind him. His neck muscles twisted each vertebra in turn while his eyes strained to confirm his fear.

She was stunning, waiting there for his eyes to meet hers. She could have been a date ready for him to pick her up. Her grace had impressed him, but never this vividly. The afternoon sun played across her exquisite face, highlighting the single flaw in her features. The horrible scar along her cheek only accentuated her beauty. She was more gorgeous than he'd ever seen her, standing there motionless in the sunlight like a statue. How he wished she were.

The heat in his skin spread to his chest, stifling his breathing like the claustrophobic panic of being locked in a sauna. He looked at his arms and wondered how they'd look when she was done with him. He'd seen pictures of her handiwork. Would they recognize his face after she had her way with him?

Then she lifted a foot and delicately stepped forward, as if walking on flower petals. Only a few yards separated them but she took her time with him, stretching each moment to its limit, increasing the anticipation. Every movement of her supple body was a delight to watch. He couldn't speak and she wouldn't, so they shared the silence as she advanced upon him, slowly closing the distance between their bodies.

Like a mist rolling in from a dream her aura surrounded him. It caressed his skin and swirled about his feet. It stepped behind him and leaned in to his ear. He could only listen as it whispered her secrets to him. He waited for her embrace.

He lost track of events for a moment and next remembered lying face down. There was a pain running the length of his spine that felt like someone had poured fire down his back. Blood oozed from behind his neck. It followed his jawbone down to the three days of stubble on his chin, then dripped onto the ground. He remembered how hard he had worked to create that manly look. The other fellows said women liked a guy with a few days of beard growth, but it had never worked for him. At least not until now. She stood straddled over him. He wanted to see the end so he twisted onto his back to face her and wait. Wait for the final blow. The one he wouldn't remember. It never came.

Instead, he felt the thick warmth of her blood dropping onto his cheek. Lost, it rolled into the corner of his mouth. It parted his lips, demanding their attention. Finally it spread into his mouth to find his tongue. He looked up at her. She panted over him like a lover, the life dripping from her lips. Then she collapsed, falling so hard she knocked the breath out of him, yet he didn't want to escape her crushing embrace. She sucked for air, trying to replace it faster than it escaped from the hole in her ribs. She laid her chin on his chest, facing him. Her eyes implored him to stay with her. He'd never been this close to her before. He brought his arm around to stroke the back of her neck and comfort her remaining moments. Each breath they shared was an eternity.


"Ainsley?"

He opened his eyes. She leaned over him with a hand on each arm of his chair, her face so close he couldn't recognize her. Her hair hung just inches from his face. Then the scent of lilac drifting from her skin reminded him where he was.

"Are you OK?" she asked. Her breath lightly touched his cheek.

"I was doing it again?"

"Yes, did you want me to wake you?"

He lifted his head to look for the clock. "How long was I asleep?"

Gilana stepped back. "I don't know. You came in here after separating Nicte from the others. I've been outside for a half hour."

"How is she?"

"Nicte has some nasty gashes, but they'll all heal, like you said."

Now he remembered. He was tired after rescuing the child and came to nap a while in their office.

"I started some tea," she said.

"You read my mind."

"You were groaning."

"Like before?"

"Yes. What is it, Ainsley?"

"Nothing, I'm fine."

The teakettle whistled for attention. Gilana turned and walked to the counter. He knew she wanted to talk about it. She always did, but he had nothing to share.

She poured water into the cups, then turned toward him. "How did you do that today?"

"You mean why?"

"I know why. I meant how?"

"I told you."

"The girl had no chance. Entering the exhibit only added you to the body count."

"I did nothing, it was Nicte."

"I don't understand. Is that how it happened before?"

"It was similar."

"Why won't you talk about the dream?"

"It's over."

"It doesn't seem to be."

She brought him his cup. He watched the easy flow of her movements as she strode toward him, the grace of her hand setting the cup on his desk and how her hair fell as she leaned down. She stirred in one more spoonful of sugar. "Just the way you like it."

They sipped their tea in silence.

He felt refreshed after drinking half the cup. "I'm heading out for a while."

"I'll watch the ladies for you."

"I won't be back today."

"You deserve a rest after this morning."

He glanced at the cats through the wall-length window on the far side of the office, then cast Gilana a smile. "Thanks again for the help out there. I was hoping you'd unlock the side gate."

"What if I hadn't?"

"You'd have my job right now."

~

The room was clean, but the low-wattage lighting colored it dingy. Heavy curtains hanging from ceiling to floor ensured a permanent twilight. A couple different strains of perfume clung to the curtains and vied with the smell of garlic for his attention.

He waited ten minutes. They must be busy today. The satin sheet covering the table was coolly comforting. He decided to relax and stretched out on the padded table. He bunched the pillow under his neck. Oldies tunes meandered out of the ceiling speaker.

Footsteps passed back and forth in the hallway, but none stopped at his door. He figured out the pattern. The light steps were the girls coming down the stairs beside his room. The heavy ones were customers being led to their rooms. Still no one came for him.

Every time he closed his eyes he replayed the day's rescue in minute detail. Why had Bella Donna left them alone? Fatigue was finally catching up to him. If he rested a while he should feel better. He wiggled deeper into the satin.

He awoke to the touch of someone rubbing the back of her hand across his cheek while "Unchained Melody" floated between them. He snapped his eyes open, but couldn't see much in the darkness. He moved to sit up, but she pushed him back down. Her hands were large, but soft.

"Lie still, Tiger."

The creature he regarded gave him a shiver. She leaned over him, examining her catch. Her eyes radiated the same feline indifference he adored in Nicte. He squinted to refocus, thinking it was a trick of the light, but her beauty persisted.

"You were asleep?"

"I guess so. I'm sorry."

"Don't be. I've never seen anyone fall asleep waiting. I thought maybe you had died." She laughed at her humor.

"Why did you call me Tiger?"

"It just occurred to me. If you like I can call you that."

He cast a careful glance her way. Her eyes beckoned him. Looking into her eyes was like gazing over a cliff. Both intimidating and hypnotic, they invited him to jump. Her hair seemed to move by itself. It fell into a perfect halo around her face as she leaned over him and slid back over her shoulders when she lifted her head. Her left hand still pressed on his chest. It held him to the table easily, yet gently. Her nails dug through his shirt into his skin. They were just the right length.

"First time?" she asked.

"No, not really."

"I meant here."

"Oh, yes, first time."

"You know the routine?"

"Probably, but review it for me."

She pulled him to a sitting position on the table, then squatted at his feet. "Let me help you with these." She untied each shoelace with a long, slow stroke and placed the shoes under the table. She gently slid her fingers inside his sock, pushing it over his ankle and past the heel. She lightly massaged each foot before placing the folded sock in its shoe.

She brought her hands to his shirt and stood up. She undid the buttons like they were one long zipper. Then she took his hands into hers and leaned back, letting her weight pull him to his feet. Instead of stepping behind him to remove his shirt she grasped his shoulders and spun him around to slide it down his back. She grabbed the ends of the sleeves and tugged his shirt.

He hunched his shoulders forward. "Wait."

"What?"

"There's something you should know."

"Honey, you needn't tell me anything. What happens here is a secret and what happens outside I don't care to know."

"It's not that."

He was too late. She slid her hands to his shoulders and slipped the shirt from his back.

"Oh my God," she gasped.

"I tried to warn you."

She stepped back. "I'll return in a minute. Remove the rest of your clothes and put on that robe."

She opened the door just enough to squeeze through. Would she really come back or just leave him here? "Wait""what's your name?"

As she closed the door she tossed over her shoulder, "Suzy."

The door clicked shut but she immediately opened it a crack, just wide enough to give him the most engaging smile. "That was rude. Excuse my manners. Call me Rose." She kept the smile on him.

"I guess you don't really want to know my name?"

"Would you like to tell me?"

"Ainsley."

"Classy, I like it. It's a pleasure to meet you, Ainsley."

"Likewise," he replied, but she'd already closed the door.