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  1. VVesley

    Chapter 24

    Thank you!!!! I really appreciate that compliment. As for the plot line, you'll just have to read on to learn more I just posted the last chapter for this book today, and the first chapter of the next one is set to post on Friday! Hopefully I'm able to finish the final one out a bit quicker than these first two.
  2. VVesley

    Chapter 1

    Kade Hawkins was many things, but a “pestilence” was not one of them. He grumbled internally about having been referred to in such a way, by his own father no less. The annoyance of the insult festered within him, until he could no longer focus on the project before him. He was working on the soles of a pair of bejeweled slippers that some noble or other had dropped off, but was so distracted that he had accidentally nailed through the toe of one of the shoes before him. This popped a piece of silver décor out of the leather lining, which made him groan in frustration. That’s going to take forever to fix. He threw the shoe onto his work bench in anger, and sat back in his chair dejectedly. For the thousandth time, he mentally declared that the life of a cobbler was absolutely not meant for him. I only stole a tenth of what she had in her purse, he thought of the woman who had just come in to scream at his parents. She was claiming that the store had either overcharged or robbed her, which Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins fervently denied. And I would never steal from someone in the store. I’m not that stupid… she just happened to guess lucky. Kade twiddled his thumbs, frowning at the image of the noblewoman screaming in his parents faces. I mean, I suppose I was the one who stole from her, but it was over three days ago, in the marketplace. He thought back on the noblewoman who had come into the store demanding her funds, and his poor mother having to defend herself against the tirade that had been rained down upon her. She truthfully didn’t know anything about the missing money, because she had no idea that Kade was stealing. Kade thought his parents probably suspected that he was up to no good, but they had no way of verifying that. The cash that he brought in on the side could be from any number of activities, and it was helping them to live a better life. My father might pretend that the extra income that I bring in is just a nice bonus, but I know that we need it. And that bitch had plenty to give too. Kade thought about how that particular woman had absurd wealth at her disposal, and by contrast his own father was dying of some unknown plague. Kade was helping to keep him comfortable and alive, and yet he was berated and referred to as a pestilence by the man. He sighed, propping one elbow on the table and resting his head in his hand. I know that it isn’t right to steal, but the country we live in literally glorifies it. And is it really right for some people to have all of the money in the world, and others to have nothing? Kade’s family was one of the very rare middle class families that was neither rich nor lived in abject poverty, but he still couldn’t help but feel the great injustice of it all. The Nabian academies didn’t teach redistribution of wealth, but they gave me the tools I needed, and they’re sanctioned by the government. How can I be expected to be taught exactly how to steal and smuggle but not to ever use it? And for that matter, why would thievery be part of the most elite training program for Nabian citizens if it was against the law? Kade knew that master thieves lived a high risk lifestyle. They were welcomed among the elite for having climbed their way to power, but executed if they targeted the wrong people or were caught. The rich deserve to be targeted, though. This world is unfair. Kade remembered a time when he had brought these sentiments to his mother before. She only responded that that was probably the reason that he had gotten kicked out of the academy, but Kade knew that that wasn’t true. The day he had been kicked out had been a shameful one for both him and his parents, especially considering most people either got through the academy training, or died trying. His case was unique and still a mystery to him, though he had some clues. Kade had stolen a letter to the headmaster of the academy that detailed that he should be removed from the academy immediately, which he had felt was a great injustice. Despite being the top of his class in stealth and intelligence gathering, he had been let go. He knew that the instruction came from someone in the Di Coteau household based on the seal on his letter, but he couldn’t fathom why. I know it wasn’t Alexandre Di Coteau’s household – his seal has been plastered everywhere since the rebellion, and its not a match. That left Damien, Devan, or Ysabel as the reigning Di Coteau family members during that time… though I guess it could have been a distant cousin or one of the children or anyone with the appropriate bloodline to use that family seal. He supposed he had angered someone that had the right connections, one of his classmates perhaps. But regardless, he was now stuck working in his parents shop instead of pursuing a better life. The world sucks. It’s so unfair. “The world is just changing so much, it’s amazing! Nabius is becoming such a righteous place!” said a voice within the shop. Kade looked up annoyed, wondering if he had spoken his last words out loud by mistake. He looked around, noticing that two women had walked into the shop and were chatting amongst themselves. He was glad that he hadn’t said his complaints aloud, but was annoyed that these women were speaking in direct opposition to his current stream of thoughts. Really? he thought. I don’t want to hear this optimism right now. “Welcome to the store ladies, can I help you find anything today?” “No, no,” said one of the girls with a shooing motion. “We’re fine.” Kade returned to his work, still listening in on their conversation. “Anyway, apparently the victory was rather grand. General Alexandre and Prince Carlisle stood atop the wallfort with Ysabel Clarion after their victory. It’s been proclaimed a Di Coteau territory now, and they say that General Orr fled south. Supposedly, his armies were absolutely ravaged.” She put emphasis on the last word, making it sound as if the deaths of so many men were the latest bit of a juicy piece of gossip. Kade rolled his eyes while the other girl squealed in delight, oohing and awing at her companion’s story. “I just can’t believe that someone so progressive is actually winning right now.” “I know, that’s pretty remarkable if you think about it… maybe the world is changing. Who knows, by this time next year, we might be able to visit the Tomacian marketplace and palace. I’ve heard that it’s pretty amazing.” “I’ve heard that Tomacian men are pretty amazing,” said the other girl with a wink. The two giggled, and Kade stopped eavesdropping as he returned to his thoughts. Such worthless conversation… but I guess maybe things will be different if General Di Coteau gets his way. Though, he’s still a Di Coteau, and I don’t really trust that family. But maybe life wouldn’t be so bad if someone that pushes for equality amongst citizens rises to power. Time will tell. Kade went back and forth in his mind about what to think of the rebellion, wondering if it could ever affect him or open up a new opportunity in his life. Doubt it. *** Alex reviewed the latest battle arrangements, frowning at the division of his squadrons. He had picked leaders from amongst his armies by hand, but not all of them were of the quality that he truly wished for. After the wallfort fell, he had restructured his army to reach maximum optimization of the skills of his soldiers. A few commanders hadn’t made it through the brief training process that Alex had devised, and thus they had to be substituted with others who had. One particular commander had either fled or disappeared, much to Alexandre’s annoyance. He had thought that the blonde Ironian that stood by his side on the battlefield at the wallfort would have made a great leader or advisor by his side. I guess I must have intimidated him when we were dining. He seemed to have such resolve for this fight, but I guess I can’t read everyone right. He mulled over the list one more time, supposing it was the best that he could do. Whatever, it’s of no consequence. I can’t get everything I want. Alex knew that despite all of the leaders of his units not being absolutely perfect choices, he had a solid formation and was well prepared to move his fight to the west and to the south. With Carl’s and his mother’s armies in addition to the armies of the allied generals of Nabius, there was a decent chance that the civil war he had started would work out in his favor. But it’s only a chance, and I’ve still got so much more work to do. Alex sighed, and rubbed his temples. Orr and the rest of his armies have fled south. That leaves him, Marie Lafeye, Fran La Croix, Pitor Davora, and my uncle alive as the opposing generals. Giovanni Nandra is also officially sided against my rebellion, but he made the declaration that he won’t use force against us after the wallfort fell… and his sister Laura has assured me that he takes no issue with our movement. He just wants to avoid bloodshed at all cost. If I could convince the Ironian armies that border him to back off, maybe he would have a change of heart and decide to help… Alex liked that option, but came to the conclusion that it probably wasn’t feasible. I don’t have that kind of relationship with the Ironian leadership. He thought about the Coyne and Monciet families, both of whom probably wanted him dead. I’m sure if I called for a meeting or saw one of them face to face, they’d kill me at the first chance they got. He looked down at the numbers that his analysts and commanders had helped to prepare, and sighed. That leaves us with a slight advantage in numbers, not including Uncle Yago’s armies. But will he fight? And if he does… we have no idea how many people he has at his disposal. It could be none, but it could be thousands. Part of Yago Clarion’s territory was built into the mountains, in which there were tunnels that could hold entire towns. Historically, the general that held that territory always kept his armies stationed there so as not to give any other general indication of the power that he had at his disposal. Yago was no different, and Alex detested that he had no way to guess what kind of opposition he might face. “Saints please help me,” he said aloud with a groan. He felt hands on his hips from behind, and Carl’s pelvis press into his backside. “I don’t know about them, but I could certainly help take your mind off of things,” Carl whispered into his ears from behind. Alex grew stiff at this, and pushed back on the taller man’s crotch. “That sounds nice,” he said seductively. “… but later. I need to come up with a strategy for our next moves.” “No you don’t,” said Carl with a light nibble on the back of Alexandre’s neck. This made the small hairs on his body rise, and a small pulse of energy traveled through the skin all over his body. He could feel the bulge in Carl’s pants straining against the cloth of his pants, and he put one hand on it to stroke it from the outside. “We’ll have the others take care of any remaining duties.” “But what about the armaments? And the money? We’re running out of funds, Carl. What your parents sent only covers the rest of this month. I can’t just not pay may soldiers,” Alex replied. Carl had begun taking both of their clothes off, eager for release. “You’ve got two new territories now,” Carl shrugged. “I’m sure there’s things we can sell here. And Jezebel’s mines are probably worth the plunder.” Alex was feeling annoyed as he stumbled because Carl had pulled his pants down to below his knees, but couldn’t help but emit a small sound of pleasure when he felt spit covered fingers make small circles around his hole. “That’s…” he mumbled with distraction as he felt the tips of two fingers slowly slide into him “... that’s actually not a bad idea.” “Exactly,” said Carl, fumbling with his own pants, one handed. “Now stop thinking and let me fill you.” Alex gave a nod yes, and felt all of his husband’s girth slide begin to work its way into him. *** “An order?” Jezebel said aloud, incredulously. “Are you fucking kidding me?” The newest general of Nabius set the letter she had just received down, anger slowly beginning to settle in. She had almost found a small hint of contentedness before this, and now was appalled by the insult. Who does he think he is? I am a general of Nabius now, not my cousin’s fucking lapdog. Alex is going to pay for this. How dare he treat me with such little respect? Jezebel thought to how she had almost succeeded in killing Alexandre once, but he had gotten away via the distraction of her accidentally killing his father Darion instead. He had apparently survived assassination by Marion’s plant as well, and Jezebel found solace in the thought that her cousin’s luck would have to run out soon. I’m not going to give him a shred of what we make from Du Vance’s mines. And his “envoy?” I honestly ought to slaughter him… she paused at that, thinking of what the letter had said. Alexandre is sending Mikhail to my territory to start the new forge and mines. He’s helped to run his father’s in the northernmost territory for a while now, and knows what he’s doing… I guess I could use the help. She pushed hair out of her face, still angry at the thought of one general sending an order to another. I don’t have to do anything that he says. I took this territory on my own, it belongs to me. Mikhail will be a big help, but still… She thought of the tall smith’s son, who she had seen grow up alongside herself, Alex, and Talia. He’s cute at least, she mused. I guess after he gets my money moving, we’ll see where his loyalties lie. And he’ll either be getting laid after that, or be unable to ever get laid again. She wondered what he looked like naked, or if he had any experience with women. She knew that he had the ability to navigate Nabians socially, as he had survived growing up with the Di Coteau children without too much injury. So he should be aware of the fact that he needs to show me respect. She shrugged. His choice. Jezebel held Alexandre’s letter over the open flame of a candle, and watched it burn up on her desk. All things considered, she had actually been enjoying her new role and post. There weren’t very many soldiers to manage, and she had them training each other. No work for me. Jezebel was enjoying the foods and views from the late Jack Du Vance’s mountain fort, and had found that the staff there was actually decent. Only one servant had needed to be punished so far, and Jezebel had taken care of that swiftly. I’m so good with management. Another reason why I absolutely should not be being managed by another general. Especially not the one who rebelled against the nation just to fuck a Tomacian… I don’t see why he couldn’t just visit some of the brothels in town. They have plenty of Tomacian prisoners of war, if that’s his thing. She frowned at the small burnt husk of parchment that now sat on her desk, figuring that she would certainly find some way to get revenge on Alex for his latest crime. I’ll figure it out later. She returned to her new stack of mail. As she read through it, she became increasingly annoyed that she had not received welcome letters from the other generals to the Thirteen. I suppose they’re waiting to see which way the war goes… spineless, the lot of them. I’ll remember this. She flicked through her pile, not taking interest in much of what she had gotten this day. A couple of merchants sent me congratulations… sycophants. And my latest trading ledgers… I can’t believe Du Vance did so little business. She frowned at the idea of not turning much profit from her new land. I guess it’s good Mikhail’s going to set up the mines anyway. Jezebel continued to flip through her mail, growing more and more annoyed that its contents were so mundane. She hadn't expected full extravagance and fanfare, but it felt like her taking over this new territory had sparked little interest elsewhere, as if it had no consequence. Maybe that's why Alex thinks he can order me around... it doesn't matter. I'll show him that I do indeed matter, one way another. And once I get the feel for the other generals, we'll see which ones are willing to help me. She turned over the next letter, and a smile lit up her face. Her green eyes sparkled, and she undid the wax seal on the parchment in her hands with slow, deliberate joyfulness. A letter from General Yago Clarion, addressed to General Jezebel Di Coteau. I wonder what he has to say?
  3. VVesley

    The Truce

    Book 3 of The Alliance series. The final book!
  4. VVesley

    Chapter 25

    Ladders flew up against the face of the wallfort like switches being flipped, sometimes even hoisted up with soldiers riding on them. The onslaught of arrows and pitch from above dropped soldiers left and right, and a pile of bodies was beginning to form at the base of the massive structure. Several dozen ladders had gone up successfully, and Di Coteau men and women had begun to break down the line of soldiers that manned the wall. Now that things were a bit safer, Alex knew that it was his turn to go up. It wasn’t always necessary for Nabian generals to man the frontlines, but the conquering of a new territory always required visibility of a war hero. It would have been nice for me to reach the top of the wall and have Talia greet me with Orr’s head to end the fighting and shame the enemy troops into submission, but that’s not going to happen, Alex thought. He knew that his sister was in danger, and felt great fear for her. It wasn’t an emotion that he was equipped to deal with, as it had been bred out of him from a young age. He had been scared before, of course, but loss of life was much less intimidating then the loss of the people around him. His family, his friends, and his people depended on him now. When it was the Monciet palace, I wasn’t scared because that mission would prove whether or not I would become someone. Had I failed and died, that would be that. Maybe some shame on my family, but it wouldn’t cause their deaths or ruin. And in the arena, where I met Luca, my death would just mean that I died doing something idiotic… but now… he looked around at the squadron surrounding him, and felt pangs of guilt. If I go down, so do all of them. So does Talia from inside the fort, so does my mother on the other side of the battlefield. Luca and Eamon, back at home will fall after that, and all of my allies across the country. He thought of the Nandras, his uncle Damien and uncle Devan, and Devan’s long lost son Kade, put into hiding just to survive. He even thought of the less likely allies that he had, like his spiteful cousin Jezebel, and Elsa Torne, who had chosen to side with him despite having unclear motives thus far. But I guess I have to. And there are good people around me too. Have confidence, and do what you were made to do. He breathed in, focused, and let his body tune into the environment of war around him. His pupils dilated, and he made mental note of all of those around him who would attempt an ascent at his flank. Carl is to my back right – I can rely on him implicitly. Roark has agreed to give me cover with his bow and not make the climb, and I’d prefer it that way anyway. His accuracy is remarkable, and I’m lucky to have gotten him from the academy. I’ve got Barclay to the back left, and I know he’ll provide a wall there. Three soldiers I don’t know well are behind them – the dark-haired female swordsman, the bald pikeman, and the young male soldier that looks just like the Monciet boys. I don’t know where he came from, but his skills with a sword are almost as good as mine. If those three make it out of this alive, I’ll give them all promotions. He brushed a loose strand of hair out of his face, and wiped the sweat off of his brow. The wind had picked up, and a fine layer of dust had caked itself onto all of the sweaty soldiers. Fifteen others that were selected by their squadron leaders are behind them. It’s a solid party, and I need to trust them. We can take this. Ladder bearers jogged past the group with a massive sieging ladder carried between them, and Alex began to jog behind them. “Move!” boomed Carl, and Alex was struck by how much the Cathcart prince sounded like his father. The group took off at full pace, traveling under shields that made sharp noises as they reflected the arrows that rained down upon them. “Up! Heave!” shouted a ladder bearer, and the structure began to rise. Two foot soldiers went up first to clear the way and hold off enemies at the top, and then Alex went to lead his elite group. He climbed as fast as he could, feeling the pressure of his loved ones wellbeing weigh him down. Fear made him feel as if he were carrying twice his normal body weight, and moving half as fast as he was. He was focused enough to dodge a bolt fired at him from above, and saw the body of the man who shot it fall over the walls edge moments later with one of Roark’s arrows in him. “Push!” he heard Carl cry from behind him. Alex desperately clamored up the rungs, until he was finally up and over the ladder. The space atop was crowded with men and bodies, and he had to fight his way through a cluster of enemies to create enough space to let Carl and the others up behind him. The top of the wallfort was wide, with embrasures on the battlefield side and a drop off towards the inside of the castle. Alex knew that there were too many soldiers on the top, and that they would need to be cleared away. Perfect opportunity, he thought as he saw a group of Orr’s men, with none of his own in between them. He ducked the swing of an enemy, and launched a counter attack of his own. One hooked blade was lodged into the chest of an axeman, pointing down into the chest cavity and hooked around the collarbone. Swiveling, he sunk his second blade into another soldier in a similar position. Using the resistance of his blades, Alex backed up, jumped, and then slingshotted himself forward to land a hard kick to the chest of a third man. Both feet pushed into the man’s leather breastplate, and his tumble backwards careened into the group of Orr men, who were near the drop off. Men fell into each other like dominoes, and at least six fell over the ledge into the inside of the fort. It was enough to create a small clearing, and Carl and Barclay made their way up to the top to join in the fight. The two hulking men beat through challengers with sheer brute force, and others began to come up the ladder to join. By the time Alex had noticed that the ladder’s entrance had become cut off by enemies, a group of two had already started to push one of his soldiers over the edge. It’s the Ironian soldier, Alex thought, noting with regret that this skilled gentleman was cut off from help. He took a throwing dagger off of his belt and launched it into the neck of one of the attackers, but not before the other knocked the Ironian soldier over the edge. Dammit, thought Alex as he plunged one blade into an enemy, and fell backwards over the edge of the wall. He pointed his head downwards towards the ground, and hooked the remaining blade onto a piece of masonry that jutted out of the wall. The momentum of the fall and catch of the hook made him swing in a semicircle quickly, to where he was upright holding onto one sword lodged into the wall with one hand, and gripping the forearm of the allied soldier with the other. The blonde warrior looked up in astonishment at having not just plummeted to his doom, and Alex read on his face a mixture of relief, horror, and wonder at having just been caught out of the air by a general. “Swing,” Alex said breathlessly, not having the time to contemplate the risk he had taken. The Ironian-looking soldier nodded, and began to push against the wall with his toes. “Make way for the general!” he heard voices call from above. “Move the ladder over,” cried another from the ground below. Alex and the soldier had begun to generate some momentum now, and the soldier hanging onto Alex was beginning to run in slow, sweeping arcs along the wall face. “I’m going to jump,” he nodded towards a ladder that was being shifted over to save the two. Alex nodded, knowing that he couldn’t support the weight of another person with one arm much longer. “Go now!” he yelled, using all of his might to swing the soldier over to the ladder that was being carried by folks on the ground while still upright. He felt the release of the grip on his forearm, and watched the soldier fall a few feet before landing onto the rungs of the siege ladder roughly, sword still drawn in one hand. The relief of the weight was immense, and Alex hoisted himself to get a grip on his sword handle with both hands. He planted two feet on the face of the wall, and waited for the ladder to come close enough for him to grab. Above, he spotted Carl fighting fiercely to protect him from the onslaught of projectiles, his massive great sword cleaving heads and other body parts clean off in his defense. The Ironian soldier caught another ally who had been pushed over the edge, and then extended his arm out to Alex, hanging on the face of the wall. He looked into the face of this stranger, and felt a strange sense of resolve coming from him that made him unsure whether this man was about to drop him to his death, or help him get back into the fight. Alex grabbed his hand, and was swung onto the ladder beneath him. The ladder was rooted in place, and the men climbed up it to rejoin the battle. Carl and Barclay had formed an opening atop the wall, and Alexandre and the mystery soldier were able to get back onto the flooring before it became enclosed again. Like all of the groups of allied soldiers, the group was pressed from three sides by enemies, pushing against the surge of men that came to defend their general’s home. Alex recovered his second sword thanks to the Ironian tossing it back to him through the fight, and the two looked back at each other for a moment. They gave a mutual nod of respect, and began to fight back to back as they pushed through the ranks. *** What in the world do I do now? Jared thought to himself as he walked through the stone halls of the wallfort, still freshly scarred with the remnants of battle. The inside of the monstrous palace echoed as he walked, and he wrinkled his nose at the smell of death as he passed a small splattering of entrails, yet to be cleaned. The wallfort had fallen, and the host of men that had captured it were still in the process of combing it over, killing any would be stay behind assassins, and interrogating the grounds staff that had been left behind. After the wall had been breached and it became clear that the brawl would move to the inside of the palace, General Orr and a good amount of his remaining army had fled. General Di Coteau and his closest advisors had considered following, but their army was tired after the siege. Alexandre had made the decision to stop and regroup, and Jared thought it was the right one. They got their objective anyway. The territory is claimed, and the Di Coteaus have a straight line across Nabius that they can defend. Even though Alex is my enemy, I have to admit that he knows how to wage a war. He walked a little further down one of the great halls, before taking a turn. He wasn’t sure if he was even going the right direction, and sighed. An enemy that saved me. Had he not caught me over the wall… I wouldn’t be here now. Here, about to go dine with him. Alexandre had invited several of the best-performing soldiers on the battle field to dine with him personally during the victory feast. Jared had been promoted to squadron leader immediately after the clamor had died down, alongside another female that had fought alongside the General and Prince of Tomacia. The gesture was nice, and Jared knew that the Nabian promotion system was based on who had the showiest prowess during battle. Jared was an excellent swordsman, and almost felt a bit of excitement at having been recognized for that, but knew he could never fulfill the duties that he had been assigned. I’m a spy, and an assassin at the moment. I shouldn’t be breaking bread with my target… this is so stupid. He was armed now only with a poison that had been developed by Marion, and tested by one of her friends. Supposedly, it would eat through the flesh and innards of a man’s gut once consumed, and would be a very painful way to die. Jared had never killed anyone via poison before, instead preferring to conduct combat face to face and honorably. But it’s all I’ve got, and this is my chance.He groaned with indecision, not realizing that he had reached the feast hall. “Not excited to join us?” a voice asked with a hint of amusement in it. Jared looked up to see the speaker, and felt his stomach lurch. The Cathcart prince. “Oh, that’s not it at all! I just – “ “Relax,” Carlisle cut in with a laugh. “I’m just toying with you. Thank you for coming, we’re pleased to have you dining with us.” The smile seemed genuine, and Jared had the distinct feeling that his cover hadn’t been blown. “Sorry, my prince. Or Prince Cathcart. Or… what do you prefer to be called?” “Carl will do just fine, friend. We’re no sticklers for titles, and today you’re celebrating with us as a friend. Join the feast,” Carl said with a wave of his hand. Beyond it, Jared saw that the great hall of the wallfort had been set up with a variety of salvaged tables and chairs, and there was a surplus of both food and people. At the head of the hall was a grander setting, at which some of the soldiers that Jared recognized from the battlefield sat. Alex was sitting there too, in a throne that looked like it had been taken from somewhere else in the palace. He had one leg draped over an arm of the chair, and held a goblet of wine in one hand. He wore a dazed, exhausted look on his face that made Jared wonder if the General was drunk. He didn’t think so, but his posture and face conveyed relaxation and smug victory. Arrogance, Jared thought. He probably threw a similar victory celebration after he slaughtered my uncle and cousins, and took Marion’s home from her. “Thanks,” he said to Carl, who nodded. The Tomacian had already turned to another conversation, and Jared made his way up to the General’s table. “May I join you?” he asked Alex. The dark-haired young man looked his direction with sudden alertness, and then relaxed. So he’s definitely not drunk. I guess just tired. “Absolutely. Though I’m about to head over to the wine fountain to refill my cup. Would you like to join me and grab a drink?” Jared’s face turned to confusion. “Wine fountain?” “Ah, yes. The men found it in a wing of the fort that looks like it was a brothel… a bit elaborate for my taste, but we figured we could use it during this celebration.” Alex held his goblet up to his lips, and threw back what was left in it. He stood up, and put an arm around Jared’s shoulder as they began to walk. “But anyway, you deserve a drink. You did good work out there, and I’m impressed with what I saw. Where did you learn to fight? I’ve never seen a style quite like yours.” Oh shit, Jared thought. He panicked to think of an answer, and blurted out the first thing that came to his mind. “Ironia, I come from Ironia.” Fuck. Alex raised an eyebrow, and Jared tried to make a save. “I learned there, that is. My homeland was territory occupied by General Marie Lafeye, and she offered an assimilation program. We combined Nabian academy teachings with some of the war tactics that my people taught.” Alex took a long pause at that, but eventually nodded. “I’ve heard that she does that. Interesting that it produced such an elite soldier.” Whew. Jared had heard that General Lafeye incorporated Ironian slaves and warriors into her armies, and was glad that the information came to his rescue. He felt his anxiety level go down, and noticed that they were at the refreshment stand, at which a golden statue poured wine out of many different spouts for people to hold their cups under. “Yeah,” he said. “Even more interesting that she let you go,” said Alex with a question in his voice has he filled his cup, and then another for Jared. Jared accepted his offering, and tried to think of another lie. But lying is only going to get harder and harder from here on out. I need to do the deed and get out of here soon. “She didn’t let me go. There were a number of us that defected to join you.” “Why?” asked Alex, who seemed surprised. Jared wasn’t sure if there were actually soldiers that defected from their generals to join Alexandre’s side of the fight, but he wouldn’t have been surprised if there were. He found himself speaking before thinking, half believing what he was saying. “The war wasn’t just bad between Nabius and Tomacia, you know. Nabius and Ironia have just as much conflict, and it creates just as much pain. There are plenty of people who wish for peace on all fronts.” Alex nodded, and took another sip. “That’s true. It’s those people, people like you, that make this movement work. Thank you for your conviction. Together, people that share the goal of peace could actually make a difference. In the history of our nations, no one has ever been able to… but I think we really could. This victory proves it, and the men and women in this room show the greatest will to affect change. With their – your – leadership and skills, we’ve got a chance.” Jared took a long pause at that, and looked Alex in the eyes. “I don’t mean to offend, general, but is that really what you want? Peace? Or an alliance?” Alex looked directly back at the Ironian prince, smiled, and then let out a little laugh. “I know you know what my family is like. My mother, father and sister… they’re infamous. And I know that it’s probably hard to believe that my intentions with Tomacia are pure, but I can assure you that they are. I don’t just seek an alliance with Tomacia.” He raised his glass to cheers Jared, who obliged. The glasses made a small clinking noise, and Jared took a sip. I guess I am interested to hear what he has to say for himself, at the very least. Throwing a nation into civil war is definitely something that can be done to grab power, but there are other, far more simple ways that someone of his background can grab power. “I want a bond. I want national borders to become nothing more than an illusion, and for children to grow up without death and fear constantly hanging over their heads. I want all of our nations – Ironia included – to have a shared bond that allows for us to bring our citizens up to be able to do anything they please, find success, love who they want… and so on.” “That sounds nice,” Jared said with guilt growing in his chest. “It does. And I know it’s cliché, but finding love and being able to grow within the Nabian system has allowed me to really see all of its flaws.” Jared smiled, but nodded. “Flawed, but its been the way of the world for so long. Do you… actually, do we, know anything else?” Alex nodded at that. “We absolutely do.” They had begun to walk further out now, towards a balcony that Jared hadn’t even noticed was there. “You know, I spent my entire life trying to please my father and mother by becoming somewhat of a violent beast. I did… terrible things, just for the shreds of approval that they would give. It took me so long to realize this, but it was only once I stopped conforming to the system that I became proud of who I was. In turn, they became proud too.” They paused, and looked out over the battlefield that they had been on just hours earlier. “When did that happen?” Jared asked, with sincere curiousity. Alex smiled, as if he were bashful about something. “This is embarrassing to admit, but I actually got captured by some slave traders a long while ago. I got put into a gladiatorial ring, and had to fight my way out. When my mother saw, she was confused, so I played it off as if I were trying to change Nabius from the inside out. She accepted the revolution and that I was making a name for myself, but didn’t quite understand just how far I would take things. Then Carl came along, and I took it to the next level. My father is no longer with us, but I believe that he would have been proud, at least in part, of what I am trying to do. I mean I have no doubts that he’d try to leverage it to some advantage or another, but I think the pride would have been there.” Jared leaned back on the railing and thought about that, but came up with no response. Maybe he’s not a monster after all. I guess they can’t all be monsters. I see Nabians every month at the meetings of the order, after all. Eventually, he spoke up quietly. “I think he would be too. I think he’d believe in what you’re doing. Or that he’d believe in what you believe in, or something like that…” he gulped, and tried to face the topic of conversation that he had been most apprehensive about. “And there are many people that are in your debt because you do what you believe in, myself included.” He thought back to the fear he had felt while falling through the air, the terror that had jolted right out of him when he felt the yank of Alexandre’s hand on his arm. He had barely processed that the Nabian general had leapt off of a wall to save him before they were fighting back to back for survival. Now, he needed to express his gratitude. “Thank you for saving my life, General Di Coteau.” Alex looked him in the eyes sternly before relaxing again, and shrugging it off casually. “You’re welcome. It was nothing. And it was especially worth it to save a soldier of your caliber. Plus, now that I’ve gotten the chance to talk to you, I’m glad that I was able to help. You seem to have faith in my vision of the new world, and I appreciate that. I’m going to need people that I can trust who believe in what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s ultimately the people of these nations that will form the bond I’m looking for, not just me alone.” Alex had turned his back to Jared, looking over the vast expanse of cracked, scorched ground that was at the foot of the wallfort. Jared followed his gaze over the swampy forests that bordered the desert, and beyond towards the horizon where stars were beginning to show through the dusk. He noticed that Alex had set his cup down on the railing as he gazed, and Jared felt Marion’s poison in his hand. “I do believe in the bond you’re talking about. And I think it could happen…” he said quietly, as he moved towards Alexandre’s cup. I do, I really do believe. But do I believe in your world with, or without you…?
  5. VVesley

    Chapter 19

    Thank you for the review! Ysabel is quite a character indeed - let me know later on what you think of her as she develops! I really appreciate it
  6. Just finished my outline for book 3, the final one! It's 11 pages alone, and includes only the basic plot points. Excited to have it done though! Now hopefully I can speed up putting out chapters !

    1. Puppilull


      I like the sound of that!

  7. VVesley

    Chapter 24

    Thank you! I've actually just plotted the entire rest of the series out, so I'm thinking I should definitely finish How long that will take I don't know, but its coming, I promise! Thank you for leaving the review!
  8. VVesley

    Chapter 24

    Both Jared and Orr are playing with some serious risk, thats definitely true. And Luca will have a tough choice to make, certainly. Oh my gosh, thank you so much! I would be so honored. If you do end up doing that, can you send me a picture of it :D? That would be so cool to see. Thanks so much for the review!
  9. VVesley

    Chapter 24

    Indeed, indeed. And as for what's going on with Ysabel, things will be explained, in time. Thank you for reviewing!
  10. VVesley

    Chapter 24

    Thank you, I'm glad that you think so! Luca does indeed have a choice to make, and it will probably be tough. I appreciate the review!
  11. Rescued and then adopted a four footed friend. How is she doing? You're a good person, Charlie Brown! I hope you had a very Happy Birthday and a really great day, today.


    Take care


    1. VVesley


      Thank you so much! She's a joy :)

  12. Happy Birthday!

    1. VVesley


      Aw thank you!

  13. Happy birthday!

    1. VVesley


      Thank you so much!

  14. Happy Birthday!

    1. VVesley


      Thanks :D

    2. Daddydavek


      You are very welcome. 

  15. VVesley

    Chapter 24

    It was around midday when Alex heard the foreign war horn, a newcomer to the pandemonium that was at his every side. He had been back to back with Carl for almost a full hour, fighting through the hordes with the best frontline soldiers there were. General Orr had sent a second wave of cavalry towards the Tomacian and Rebel Nabian camp, and Alexandre and his husband were determined to demonstrate their willingness to fight for their cause, and their armies certainly took notice. Though it had been just three days since they had arrived to siege Orr’s Wallfort, the fighting had worn the two of them down to the core. Alex was exhausted, a feeling that was only amplified by the hot sun, the growing smell of bodies, and the steady arrival of bugs drawn to the decay. “To your left!” Alex shouted, causing Carl to swing his massive broadsword in an arc over his head and into the neck of an enemy soldier to his left. Carl dislodged his sword, and bent over to make his back parallel to the ground. Alexandre rolled over it dodging the swing of an enemy and getting to the other side of his partner simultaneously. The momentum he had gained from Carl’s boost was channeled into a jump that spun him horizontally, in which he linked the two hook ends of his swords to create one longer weapon. His extended blade neatly severed an artery in the neck of a foe at a longer distance, and by the time he landed there were two more soldiers fast approaching. One was struck down by a friendly club wielder, whom Alex believed was Barclay, and the other was made short work of with a parry and downward slash. “More horses,” he heard Carl call. Damn, he’s right. There was another brigade of riders fast approaching from the wall, coming straight for him. Alex remained calm, knowing that these soldiers were probably riding to their doom by his hand, but felt weak and was annoyed at the thought of fighting them. It was then that the horn had sounded, causing Alex to pause and look for its source. The tonal quality is off, he thought. He had never heard a horn that sounded quite like that. Apparently, neither had his enemies. Almost the entire battlefield began to move at a slower pace, everyone straining to look in the direction of the sound. Even the approaching riders seemed to lessen their pace, and lose focus for a moment. Alex turned to look behind him, ready to face this new threat. He saw an army in primitive dress, brandishing poorly made weapons and wearing pelts and feathers. This new threat heightened his senses and anxiety level, but he felt momentary relief when he looked to its head. Mother…? Ysabel rode in the center of three figureheads, in full Nabian war regalia with the facial expression to match. To her right was Marcus, screaming out baritone chants while wearing a mix of Nabian armor and the dress of the people behind him. To Ysabel’s left was a man that Alex did not recognize, but who looked almost as terrifying as his mother. Who are these people? He didn’t have long to think about it, but was glad that they were there. Alex had been making good use of Ysabel’s army in her absence, but didn’t realize that she had been off recruiting others. She had told him to expect a delay in her arrival and take command of her forces in the meantime, but he felt better with her arrival. He didn’t know anything about the forces approaching from the flank, but felt it was safe to bet that they were friendly. “Allies!” he cried out. “Stand strong!” By then, the incoming cavalry had made contact, and the first horse riders were cutting through the lines. Alex ducked a lance and used his hook to split open the belly of a horse as it ran past, causing it to tumble and crush the rider. Carl cut down two men in front of him, and Alex jumped as high as he could straight up into the air to stick a curved blade into the neck of a passing horsewoman and rip it out as she went past. When he turned to around to face an enemy that was looping, he saw that his mother and her reinforcements had almost shown up. They were riding fast, and Alex was shocked at how quickly they had gotten to the fight. He tried to make brief eye contact with General Clarion, but she had a focused and deliriously cruel look on her face as she sped past him. That’s not my mother right now, he thought. Everything in her body language pointed to the demon, and her eagerness to rush into the midst of the bloodshed confirmed his theory. He wasn’t disappointed to have her assistance, of course, but Alex was always uncomfortable when his mother lost control so entirely. He was able to pull the rider off of his horse by using one of his hooks around the ankle, and yanking hard in the opposite direction that the horse was moving. The rider was stunned for a moment after hitting the ground so hard, and Alex took the opportunity to finish him off. When that was done, he reassessed his positioning in the current fight, taking in the sight of battle around him. He watched Ysabel stand squatted on her saddle, directing her horse between two oncoming riders with an impossibly tight gap. She jumped off of the moving animal with both arms out, pushing claws through the upper chests of riders to either side of her, moving in the opposite direction. All three fell to the ground, Ysabel on her knees and her two opponents on their backs. One of them hadn’t even finished spitting up blood and dying before General Clarion had removed her blades from their bodies, and engaged with another. The clansmen she had arrived with were similarly unleashing their rage upon Alexandre’s enemies, and he was for a moment encircled by allies with no one left to fight. He saw Carl catching his breath, and did the same. “For Nymeria!” he heard Marcus’s booming voice shout. The enormous soldier was cutting through enemies with a two-headed axe, and men and women from his tribe surrounded him. They fought viciously, all moving in a rhythmic cycle that Alex felt was somehow familiar. He observed that though these soldiers didn’t have near the organization of a Nabian army, they certainly seemed to use the same body language and style of movements that their leaders did. The man that Alex assumed was head of the tribe fought alongside Ysabel with a club that seemed to be covered in broken bits of glass and teeth. When Alex saw him duck a sword, spin, and uppercut with his weapon in a move that Ysabel had once taught Talia, his discomfort grew. They’re just like her… like the demon. “Fall back!” Carl ordered. “Let them take care of this wave! Take your rest, but be prepared to reenter the fight if they need us!” Alex looked around and realized that Carl was right. The squadron he had been fighting with was just as exhausted as he was, and they needed a reprieve. Ysabel had shown at an opportune time, and Alex would be glad to fall back to camp and get some rest, even if just for a short few minutes. Glad you caught up with us, mother. *** Carl awoke from his sleep the instant a messenger set foot in his and Alexandre’s tent, knife drawn and at the ready. He saw that Alex had been alerted into wakefulness quickly too, ready to pounce upon the foot soldier that stood in the flap of canvas that formed the entrance to their shelter. “General,” the man said with both hands up. “We have news.” Carl relaxed, sheathing the dagger that was kept under his pillow. Not an enemy. “Has there been any more fighting past nightfall?” he asked. The soldier looked at him respectfully, then back to Alex. “A few skirmishes between scouts, but nothing serious to report.” “I see.” “What is your news?” Alex asked. His husband was already donning a shirt, but was naked from the waist down. In times of danger, Carl noticed that his husband was not bashful. The soldier didn’t bat an eye at seeing his commander unclothed either, and spoke dutifully. “I’ve been asked to have you come with me. An enemy courier has been detained in our camp. He has a package with the Orr seal upon it, and has asked for you personally. He says he brings word from his General.” Carl looked towards Alex, who had slipped on a pair of linen trousers and already began walking out of the tent. “What if it’s a trap?” he asked hurriedly. The question stopped Alex from running out of the tent without him, and Carl got dressed to go as well. “Generals don’t send out their official spokespeople or emblems to trick people. It’s just dishonorable. Besides, I don’t think one assassin could do much in the middle of our camp, to me especially.” “Nabians have tried riskier things.” They began walking with the soldier, who was leading them to a circle of soldiers on the night guard around a campfire. “That’s true.” “The package does not contain evidence of poisons or spores. We’ve had it checked already,” said the soldier. Okay. When they reached the circle of men, Carl saw the enemy that had encroached on their territory immediately. He was dressed in all white save the Orr emblem on a necklace that he wore, and a small brown paper package was in his hands. Carl knew from working treaties with Nabians on the border of Tomacia that the all white garb symbolized peace, and was customary for events like weddings or making pacts. The man was sweating profusely, and didn’t look at all like someone that a General would send to negotiate terms. He looked frightened to be in the circle of enemy soldiers, and Carl realized that he was probably expecting to die. “What do you have for me?” asked Alex sternly. “G-General,” stammered the man, “General Orr has s – sent me to –“ “Spit it out,” said Alexandre. The man flinched, and Carl felt bad for him. “Terms,” was all he squeaked. Alex snatched the package from out of his hands, and opened the note that was attached to it. He read it quickly, that slowly once more. Carl could see his husband’s face grow angry. He opened the package, and pulled out two objects. The first was a knife, and the second was a finger. “We’re done here,” Alex said, and began walking away. “B-but sir” “Don’t you dare have the gall to speak to me after presenting me this,” spat Alex. The man shrunk back, clearly terrified. “What do you want us to do with this one?” asked one of the soldiers that was restraining the convoy. Carl noticed that the man who spoke up looked familiar, as if he was someone that he had met before. He looks Ironian…. Like someone I know. Actually, he looks kind of like how the Monciet boys did, when they were younger. Huh. Inconsequential, I suppose. There are Ironians and Ironian descendants in just about every Nabian army now. “Release him.” The soldier balked at that, and his counterpart spoke up. “Why not just kill him?” Alex rolled his eyes at that, and looked even more annoyed. “Because that’s no emissary, that’s a house slave. He was just sent in so that no actual soldiers had to die. They’re conserving every one of their men. This one has no value to me dead. Let him go.” The two soldiers did, and the man in white scrambled away. Alex continued walking back to his own tent, still holding the finger, knife, and note. Carl jogged for a moment to catch up, and bumped him on the shoulder. “What is that?” Alex handed him the note, and Carl read for himself. Retreat and submit, or she dies. His heart dropped, and he knew that the note meant Talia. Had she been captured? There’s no way, Talia is the best there is at this sort of thing… “How can we be sure that that’s hers?” Carl asked, nodding his head towards the severed finger. Alex sighed, and lifted up the knife to show his husband. “My father gave Talia a set of throwing knives that were custom made for her on the same day he gave me the hookswords. There are no others like them, and this is hers for sure.” A pit formed in Carl’s stomach, which then sank with all the weight of the world. His anxiety then morphed in to terror for Talia, and then into panicked misunderstanding. “Alex! Why would you not respond?! You didn’t give that convoy anything to give back to General Orr!” “I gave him plenty.” “That note says she’s going to die Alex! Are we pulling back? Surely you’re not just giving up on her?” “Of course not,” Alex said calmly. “She knew the risk she was taking, and would put the mission first above all else. I need to do the same.” Carl wondered in shock about that for a second, thinking that his husband might be more heartless than he had previously believed. “No…. no. I don’t accept that. We can’t abandon her. They’ll kill her. That’s your sister, Alex.” “I know!” the younger commander snapped back. “I know. And she might get hurt, yes, but they’re not going to kill her.” “You can’t be sure of that.” “I am sure. I know it.” Alex paused at that, and looked to Carl like he might cry for a second. “I appreciate the optimism, but – “ “This isn’t optimism,” Alex cut off. “I really do believe she’ll be alright. Talia might be subjected to torture and the like, but she’s not going to die. My uncle… remember, my uncle is aligned with Orr supposedly as well. And if the opposing generals of Nabius want to win this war, they’ll need the help of Yago Clarion. I don’t think they’ll kill off his niece and risk his wrath, at least not before she’s brought to him. She’s not as big of a bargaining chip as they’re trying to play her up to be. That’s part of the reason I was okay with her attempting an infiltration and internal coup.” Carl nodded his head, slowly beginning to understand. “That still seems like a pretty big risk to take.” “Not really,” Alex said. “My uncle isn’t exactly loving or warm, but he has always paid special attention to Talia. And you saw what my mother was like out on the field today, right?” Carl nodded with a grimace. Yeah I did… that was terrifying. I’d never seen the demon in action truly until that moment… and I have to admit I was glad that it was on our side. “My uncle is like that all of the time. He commands enough respect from the others that they’ll defer to him first. And besides…. They only removed a finger. Damaging to her abilities maybe a bit, but they didn’t send me a whole hand, or a foot, or her eyes. They’re keeping her usable and valuable.” Carl thought in silence once again, realizing that this was true. “I guess you’re right. So… I guess the plan to get her back is just…” “Win,” said Alex. “We just have to win.” *** Luca lay in his quarters, sprawled out on the bed after a hard days work. Staring up into the folds of the canopy above him, he breathed a sigh of relief at concluding the day. It had been a long one, and he was ready to sleep. When Alfie came by personally with a plate for him, he had to be convinced to even take it. After the chef was gone, Luca only picked at his food, and felt relief at changing into more comfortable clothes. When a sharp rap on the door made him sit up, he sighed. “Come in,” he called out politely. Into the room walked Eamon, with the confidence of someone that Luca wouldn’t have guessed was blind if he didn’t know, or see the pink burn marks around the eyes. His actual eyes were glassy, and their once blue-gray tone had now paled entirely to gray. The pupils had ceased contracting and expanding to take in light as a result of the acid, but Luca thought that they were still piercing. “Good evening Luca. I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” Luca shook his head no, before realizing he needed to say it out loud. “No, you’re fine. What can I help you with?” “Oh,” said Eamon, “I don’t need any action on your part. I was just wondering how the Mullansburg trip went. I’m stopping by Mikhail and Willhelm’s before I head to bed, and wanted to know if you needed someone to send them your numbers for the morning. The smiths usually are up long before us, it wouldn’t hurt to give them a heads up.” “That’s kind of you, but I think we’re actually okay. Everyone who asked for armor and weapons has received it by now, or can be covered by what’s in the back stock. I’d like to give the forge a break tomorrow; after all, they’ve done a lot for us in the past few days. And Mullansburg probably doesn’t need more weaponry than it has already at this point.” He took a pause, and almost laughed a little. “I had an 80 year old woman ask for a battle axe when I was visiting the market street earlier. She probably could barely lift herself out of a chair, let alone lift an axe.” Eamon smiled at that, nodding as if though unsurprised. “Yeah, I’m sure people have taken advantage of your weapons program to get quite a few things that they don’t need… but the majority definitely appreciate it. And I don’t think it’s a bad idea for everyone to be armed… there aren’t any signs of troop movement this far north, but it never hurts to be prepared.” Luca knew all of this, but agreed anyway before Eamon continued on. “And the people in the commons… they seem to like you. You’re a good leader for them to look up to.” “Thank you Eamon. That’s very kind of you. If they saw how much of a mess I really feel like we’re in, they might think differently, but –“ “But I can’t think of a single person better equipped to help them.” Eamon’s tone of voice had changed from light-hearted to serious quickly, and Luca appreciated the sincerity.” “I don’t know about that.” “I do. I’ve seen how you are with them, and I know that you actually care. People like Alex and Carl… they care – of course they do – but they don’t really understand what it’s like to be at the bottom of the food chain. You can relate to the common folk.” “I can, but there are plenty of Nabian nobles that rose from poverty. You were a farmer before being accepted into the academy here, and now you’re the captain of my guard.” “You’re missing the point,” Eamon said. “I know that the leaders of Nabius each have their own backstories and had to mount huge obstacles to get to where they are. I do. But nobody I know can survive pain and come out on top as well as you can. Nobody else has as much conviction and as clear a mission as you do in light of his or her suffering. That’s what makes you great.” Luca gazed for a long moment at Eamon, studying his face and body language. There was a resolve about him, but also sadness. Luca had been picking up on the resignation that seemed to undermine a façade of confidence for several days now, and eventually came to the conclusion that it might be time to bring it up. “Are you in pain, Eamon?” “Huh? Oh, no, there’s some occasional stinging in the skin around them, but my eyes… they’re fine.” “That’s not what I mean.” Silence hung for a moment. “Are you suffering?” Eamon gave a weak smile, and then hung his head. “I’ll be fine,” he said quietly. “I’m trying to lead by your example, but its hard. I just… I wish things were different.” “Your blindness isn’t truly a disability. You just have to approach the world in a different way now.” “I know that, it isn’t that.” “What do you wish to be different then?” At that question, Eamon sighed, and then reached out to grab Luca’s hand. Luca didn’t pull away, and Eamon’s grip was gentle. “I wish you cared for me the way that I care for you. You are the only person that stuck through my antics when I was sighted… you know me, and you understand what its like to claw your way to a better life. You understand my pain, and who I am.” Eamon’s voice had started to become emotional, and Luca felt his own emotions swelling from his stomach into his chest, and up into the back of his throat. “You mean the world to me, and I would do anything to protect you and have you… even if you don’t return my affections. I’ll follow you.” Eamon reached out and put one hand on the side of Luca’s neck, running his thumb gently down the jawline. Luca took a shaky breath in, and slowly breathed out. “Eamon… of course I share your affections. You know me too. But please don’t think that because I have other… obligations… that you aren’t worth following as well. I would follow you too.” Eamon’s other hand had moved to the other side of Luca’s face, and they were just inches apart. Luca could feel Eamon’s nervous breathing and pulse through their contact and the air around them, and his own heart beat so much it hurt. “Eamon…” “Just this once, and you don’t ever have to again. Please.” Luca barely began to move his head in a nod yes before Eamon’s lips were on his, and his arms had fully embraced him. Their kiss was passionate yet gentle, exploratory yet done with the confidence of a pair that had been together for years. The longing in Eamon was clear to Luca, and for the first time in his life, Luca felt that same longing back. I’ve certainly enjoyed a couple of kisses before, but this… Luca’s whole heart and mind was invested, and he felt all of his thoughts fade to a carefree blur. When it was over, Luca pulled away just barely, so his nose was still brushing Eamon’s. “I’m sorry, I don’t want you to – “ whispered Eamon, before Luca put one finger over the older boy’s lips, and gently replaced it with another kiss. Luca knew that his actions weren’t right or faithful to Adrian, but he couldn’t help it. Denying things doesn’t help anyone out. Now what do I do… To his left, Luca heard the clearing of a throat. He looked in that direction, and saw Adrian standing in the doorway. The look on his face was certainly hurt, but it seemed more like disappointment than anything else. Shit. “I um… I guess I’ll be going then.” Luca felt Eamon stiffen when Adrian spoke, and a rush of emotions and thoughts of politics and promises hit his mind like a wall. “Oh gods, Adrian, I – “ “Save it,” said Adrian, though not unkindly. “I saw, and heard, all I think I needed to.” “Adrian, it was never my intention to be disloyal.” “I’m sorry,” blurted out Adrian. “I shouldn’t have – “ “Guys,” cut Adrian off again. “I’m not… offended. I just… I’ve seen you two together. It should have been obvious to me before, but I guess people see what they want to.” Luca nodded at that, feeling a bit dumb in the moment for having ignored his feelings for Eamon the entire length of time that Adrian had been at the Di Coteau estate. Adrian spoke again, choosing his words carefully, and annunciating them slowly as he thought. “I believe that you two have something special, and I don’t want to get in the way of that. I know you’ve been resisting me Luca. And that’s difficult for me, because I want things to work out. Not just for selfish reasons, but for the Illjard as well. And I hope that our arrangement is still on, but I’m not sure if I’m willing for it to be a sham. A political marriage is okay, but I would like things to move beyond that. My parents always told me that arranged marriages can be stronger than ones made out of love, as they take more work to build up a foundation. But still, I had hoped…” “Adrian…” Luca said, but didn’t know how to follow it up. I’ve never felt stupider than I do in this moment. “Luca… I know that this might not be fair, but I’m going to have to ask you to choose. Its not personal, but if your feelings are for someone else… I’d rather know now, and have more time to search out a potential partner here in Nabius.” Luca felt his mouth hanging open, and closed it. Adrian turned on his heels, walking out of the room as if in a daze. When he was gone, Eamon reached out and squeezed Luca’s hand. “I know this isn’t fair… but I’d like you to choose too. I care about you too much… I need to know.” Luca flopped backwards onto the bed, staring up at the canopy once more. Oh gods. What do I do?

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